There are two legends associated to the origin of Tarantella. According to one, it may have been originated in a small Italian village of Tarentum, whereas the other suggests that it may be traced to the dances performed by the Grecian women to honour God Dionysius. One explanation states that the origin is connected to tarantism, an epidemic of a disease or a form of hysteria that appeared during the 15th to 17th century. The disease was obscurely associated with the bite of the tarantula spider. The epidemic swept through the town of Taranto in southern Italy. It was observed that the victims were always women but not a high ranking lady. They were seemingly cured by frenzied dancing where the musicians would surround the victim playing instruments that would cause various movements and gestures. The tarantata was cured once the correct rhythm was found. Another explanation suggests that a woman, depressed and frustrated, could only be cured by music and dance. This dance normally lasted for three days where the tarantata would be the centre of attention. However, out of both the variations, the epidemic of tarantula spider is popular and influential and hence, the dance is sometimes referred to as the ‘dance of the spider’.
Tarantella is a couple folk dance of Italy where one member dances for the other and may be kneeling for the other. Partners can be a male and a female or a couple of two women. The dance is characterized by light quick steps and teasing flirtatious behaviour between partners where the female dancers are frequently seen carrying tambourines. With nimble steps, the dance involves a lot of whirling, flirtatious glances and close approaches between the partners. In case of two or more couples, the dancers form a circle alternating from clockwise to counter–clockwise, back as the music progresses picking up speed as it goes.
With usual and lively beat of 6/8 time or sometimes 18/8 or 4/4, the musical instruments that accompany the tarantella dance are commonly the mandolin, guitar, accordion and tambourine. These are however, augmented by other typical local instruments. It is said that the tambourine is an integral part of the music as Naples, a kind of tarantella is called ‘tammurriata’, a dialect word for a large tambourine.
A traditional dance of southern Italy, there is a trend of white blouses, dirndl–like vests, white aprons, and colourful skirts with ribbon or lace trim near the hem for women. Men, on the other hand, wear a very simple costume. They wear white button down shirts, black dress pants and red sashes tied to their belt loops.