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Pizzica Guide

Salento, Italy

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An Exorcism

If you come across a group of people dancing frenetically in the Salento area of Puglia, odds on it won't be a rave, but a pizzica pizzica, a kind of tarantella peculiar to the province of Lecce. Shrouded in myth and legend and dating back many hundreds if not thousands of years, this dance was thought to have been the only cure for a tarantula bite, or, metaphorically, for someone possessed by the devil.

The Legend

When the alarm went that someone had been bitten, usually while working in the fields, the local band would pick up their instruments (traditionally violins, mandolins, guitar, flute, accordion and large tamburine) and rush to the house of the afflicted. Once there they would begin to play, slowly at first, while the patient, usually in a high fever by this time, began the dance. As the music got faster, so to did the steps of the dancer, whose aim was to expel the poison (or malignant spirit) through sheer force of motion and perspiration. Often family and other villagers would join in in a show of solidarity. The dance would continue "prestissimo" until the main protagonist collapsed to the floor, utterly exhausted, but hopefully cured.

The traditional pizzica is a couple dance. This couple need not necessarily involve two individuals of opposite sexes, and often two women can be seen dancing together. Nowadays it has become rare to see two men dancing an entire pizzica. An exception with a pizzica between two men can still be found in the town of Ostuni, where one of the two men who dance jokingly pretends to be a woman. Another exception is where two men pretend to be engaged in a duel. Since 1998 there has been a summer Notte della Taranta (tarantula night), consisting of a whole night where many famous musicians alternate their performances with pizzica orchestras.

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