Jennifer Rose, a dancer, musician, and folk historian from Berea, Ky., talks about the background of the Tarantella, in this video from the Dance Arts Toolkit series. The Tarantella is a folk dance that originated in Italy.
In the late 1300s, there was a craze called “Dancing Mania” in Europe. People would dance in the streets for hours on end, spinning, stepping, and skipping with wild abandon. Some were even dancing because they believed it was the only way to avoid dying from a poisonous spider bite. In some places, “Dancing Mania” continued through the late 1600s. And the only dance that we’re sure survived from that era is the tarantella. The dance is called “tarantella” because, according to lore around the dance, its origin was as the only cure for the bite of a tarantula, or wolf spider.
The tarantella has its origins in Italy, although other nations have dances similar to it. It was considered unlucky to dance the tarantella alone, according to writer Johann W. on Goethe. In 1789 he wrote about seeing the tarantella performed by three young women in Naples, Italy. One woman played the tambourine and two played the castanets while spinning around and stepping. When one of the women playing the castanets got tired, she traded places with the woman playing tambourine, and the dance continued for hours and hours.
Other writers describe the tarantella as an energetic and flirtatious dance for one or more couples, which is historically more common of dances from that era. There are many variations of the dance. In the 1800s, Madame Michau, a choreographer in Europe, created a version that became very popular at high society balls in England in the 1840s.
The tarantella is still danced today. It is very popular at Italian weddings, both in Italy and the United States.