The Tarantella Dance!

The tarantella has dubious beginnings, a long history and is credited for naming an Italian wolf spider- the Tarantula. Many Italians have heard of this dance but few actively do it save for cultural events and weddings in the South of Italy.

The Tarantella has found a resurgence through Italian Americans who are reaching back to their roots and hoping to bring something tangible to share with their family and Americans who are curious about this exotic dance.

The challenge of describing a dance with text in this article is made even more difficult for this little documented dance that was never considered seriously beyond a peasant dance until Madamme Michau intorduced it to the upper classes in London’s ball rooms in 1844.


There are many theories on how the Tarantella began, and unless an in-depth study is made into the origins of this dance we cannot say with accuracy which is correct, but here are two of the most popular.

The Bite of A Spider – The dance was used apparently to cure the bite of the spider. The bite of the spider was presumed to make one hallucinate. The town’s folk will play music while the afflicted person would dance nonstop, to ward off the spider’s venom. FACT: While painful, a tarantula bite is not fatal. However, a bite from a black widow spider, whose venom is ten times more lethal than that of the rattlesnake, can cause acute pain which seems to be alleviated by physical exercise — thus the tarantella and an identity crisis for the spiders involved.

Oppression of Women -.Another origin leans on a legend of a woman who was depressed and frustrated from the subordinate lifestyle would fall into a trance that could only be cured by music and dance. This normally lasted three days and during that time the tarantata would be the center of attention, which in turn would cure them of their frustrations and depressions.

Historical Descriptions

Johann W. von Goethe (1749-1832) – a German novelist, playwright, courtier, and natural philosopher – describes the dance as, “Three girls, one with a tambourine (with bells on it) and castanets are used by the other two. The two girls with the castanets execute the steps. The girls steps are not distinctive or even graceful, basically they step in time and spin around in place using the castanets, when one tires, she trades places with the tambourine Girl” (They do this for fun for hours, 20-40 hours at times.)”

Curt Sachs, in his book “World History of the Dance”, describes the couples’ version of this dance. “The dancer, kneels in adoration of his female partner. As she dances for him, he, as though sated, speedily forsakes her again; how with a thousand turns and tricks he now holds aloof and now rushes upon her. His gambols and capers are grotesque (sloppy) and yet charming, light and tender. His bearing is yet proud and resolute, now querulous and elaborate. Leg’s and arms, even the fingers, strumming the tambourine (hers), and above all the “glance”, ardent, languishing, suddenly bold and shameless, reinforce the expression of the posture. The girl comes out of her corner, now wayward, now willing. Her smile is eloquent, her eyes are drunken. She swings her skirt; she picks up the corner as if to gather things in it; or she raises the arm so that the hand hangs down loosely over her head as though from a hook, while the other hand presses against her heart. Now she is the axis in which the male rotates.”

How To Do It

Madame Michau’s 8 Step Tarantella

In 1860 Eugene Coulon published a book called “Coulon’s Handbook” and describe the tarantella as Madame Michau, who introduced the dance to the public, with the caveat that “to dance the Tarantella in ballroom circles, as they danced it at Naples would be impossible. Therefore, when Madame Michau introduced it in London in 1844, she made a selection of only about eight steps or figures, that had great mastery among the higher classes there.”

Three Gallop steps (Triple) to the right, and slide the left foot forward (this to be repeated three times). The gentleman supports his lady on his right arm, without giving the left hand.
Three Gallop steps and slide the other foot forward in turning very rapidly, and repeated three times.
Ajetté in turning, fouetté, temps levé, and chassé … four times.
Echappé, and eight Gallop steps in crossing the room obliquely, facing his partner and holding both of her hands, and return in the same way to their places.
Four Gallop steps without turning, four jettés in turning and remaining in the same place.
Eight glissades turning to the right and the same to the left.
Gallop steps steps forwards, slide the foot backwards, and at the same time turn short round rapidly (this three times)
The Compass step (done four times).

Sicilian Tarantella

The Recreational Folk Dancing Website, authored by Bob Shapiro, has a detailed description of the Sicilian Tarantella.

Sets of two couples. Men next to each other facing their partners. Meter 6/8, counted as 1, 2

Lecce – Artistic by day and Entertaining by Night

The landscape of Lecce is mostly flat and dry. The houses and modern buildings tend to be low with flat roofs (except in the historic center). This creates somewhat of a “barracks” feel as you look around punctuated by an oasis of greenery from the public park -filled with palm trees, flower beds, benches and a majestic gazebo with a tiled dome. Open every day until sundown, it’s where everyone brings kids, dogs and books to wile away the afternoon.

The arid landscape changes dramatically as you head out of town toward the beaches. The land gives way to a seemingly endless expanse of crystal blue sky and sea. Lecce is located just about dead center of the heel of the Italian boot; a peninsula within a peninsula. Consequently, there is easy access to beaches on the eastern coast of the heel (Adriatic Sea) and the western coast of the heel (Ionian Sea). On any given day, you can choose your coast depending upon which way the wind is blowing. I’m not kidding. When the wind is blowing due east, go to the Adriatic. When it blows to the west, go to the Ionian coast. With so many sandy beachfronts at your disposal, you can afford to be picky. One of my favorite beaches is Torre di Chianca, on the Ionian coast. The sand is soft and the water is clean, clear and warm, even in October.

Piazza del Duomo

The historic center of Lecce is why the town is called “Florence of the South”. Filled with churches constructed in Baroque style, it’s easy to lose yourself and your way in the labyrinth of narrow streets. Eventually you’ll reach the Piazza del Duomo, the architectural centerpiece of town. Splendid in daylight, it’s especially beguiling at night. Indirect lighting installed throughout the Piazza illuminates the statuary, almost bringing them to life.

The historic center is also the place to go for entertainment and shopping. Restaurants, bars, movie theaters and gelato abound. During my stay, silent films starring Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton were shown against the wall of an outdoor café. Like so many other Italian cities, you can walk out of anyplace directly onto an excavation of subterranean Roman structures. Now that’s entertainment!

The shopping in the historic center is quite diverse. In addition to Italian clothes, shoes and artwork, you can find African and Indonesian jewelry and furniture. A famous local craft is Cartapesta. This is a centuries-old technique of fashioning lifelike figures out of straw and paper mache. The figures are then painted so skillfully that they seem to be carved out of stone. The artisans in Lecce excel in religious and nativity statues, many of them life size.

High-end and designer shopping can be found just outside the historic center, at Piazza Mazzini. Max Mara, Missoni and Valle Verde are at your disposal, just to name a few. The Piazza is also home to a large stone fountain made with whimsical, impish figures perched throughout– peeking at you from under the streams of water and having great fun.

Saturday night is party night in Lecce. Around midnight, everyone drives into the historic center, creating bumper to bumper traffic seldom seen outside of New York City. Everyone miraculously finds parking and it’s off on foot to the bar of their choice. We chose Route 66, a noisy, crowded place with music videos playing from multiple screens, but no dancing. It’s a place to sit, smoke, drink and speak loudly.

After the bar, there’s always a party going on in somebody’s apartment. It’s a great opportunity to hear someone sing, watch someone else learn how to juggle, and try to find the bathroom. When this party dies down everyone heads to Leopardi, open 24 hours serving coffee, liquor and pastry. This place is very popular (especially around 3:00 a.m.) and there’s always a line to get in. We wait patiently and our reward is cappuccino and pastry amid the music and neon. Even as we leave about an hour later, the line outside is just as long and the place is just as lively as when we arrived. It makes you wonder if anyone in this town ever sleeps on a Saturday night.


When in Rome… Do as the Romans do and Other practical travel advice

Learn about the culture and customs of your destination. Know something about the politics. So fundamental is this advice that the US government provides Background Notes for you! Check out the Travel Warnings too.

You Call This a Line?

Italians would never make it through American first grade – lining up single file just doesn’t come naturally. Yet, “cutters” are not tolerated. To avoid looking like a total dunce, don’t be polite and let others get ahead of you. Pay attention to who came in ahead and after you and assert your place when the time comes for service at a bar or restaurant.

Those Famous Bathrooms

The most accessible bathrooms are those found in bars – but don’t expect to find toilet paper at most of them. The major tourist sites have the most modern facilities and you can expect to part with coins for both the attendants who work there and the stalls themselves. Fast food restaurants and department stores may provide decent bathrooms, as well. By the way, there is often a cord in the shower/toilet in the small hotels of Italy. This is an emergency cord, so don’t pull it expecting hot water or a toilet flush!

The Almighty Lira, Now the Euro

Offering a shopkeeper a L50,00 or L100,00 note when you’re buying a bottle of shampoo is the equivalent of trying to buy a postcard with a $100 bill. Take care, too, not to use a credit card to pay for items costing L10,000 or so. Don’t be an annoying tourist – observe the same monetary courtesies you would at home And did you know that prices are rounded up to the nearest L50?

No Need to Walk a Mile for a Smoke

Cigarettes can only be sold legally by tabacchi (tobacconists), which are housed in buildings with bold white T’s on black or dark blue signs. You won’t just find tobacco there, which makes the tabbachi fun to visit. Expect to see any or all of the following: salt, postage stamps, official stamps and stationary you need when dealing with Italian bureaucracy, bus/Metro/train tickets, phone cards, lottery tickets, sweets, toiletries, postcards, and souvenirs.

Italian Wolves

Yes, we’re talking about men! Female travelers need to use the same basic common sense that protects them at home. Ignore unwanted advances and they will probably go away. In Rome, the Piazza di Spagna and Fontana di Trevi are the spots where young Italian men prowl for foreign ladies. If you want to avoid being prey, head for the areas around Campo dei Fiori, Testaccio and Trastevere. But wherever you are, expect more attentention than usual form the Italian male.


Condoms can be purchased at supermarkets or at pharmacies, but they tend to be more expensive than they are in America, so you might want to pack a few of your own from home. Feminine products are sold in supermarkets and drugstores.

What Can I Say?

Acceptable topics for conversation: soccer, family affairs, business, local news.

Unacceptable topics: American football and politics (it’s probably wise to lay off religion, as well).

For the Reading Public

Rome has a huge assortment of libraries. If you’re there to do some research, bring lots of patience. You’ll spend more time than you’d like dealing with red tape and longing for the Dewey Decimal System.

Hitting the Best Beaches in Italy

Summer is one of the best times to visit Italy and the southern part around Sicily has some amazing beaches.  The climate and the warm waters of the Mediterranean allow you to enjoy the water and soak up the sun all year long.  The coast has plenty of different regions for you to check out, so if you plan on spending your summer in Italy you can start hitting the best beaches in Italy.


Mondello is close to Palermo, the largest city in Sicily and it is one of the most well-known tourist destinations in the area.  Aside from having an amazing beach there is a pretty cool fishing village nearby that has tons of food and sporting events.  If you love pizza then you really need to try it here.  Here is a closer look at Mondello and everything you can do here.

The Beaches at Taormina

Taormina is the jewel of the Mediterranean and the beach can be found in Mazzaro.  Here you can find marine reserves and sea caves.  Make sure to stop by Isola Bella it is a small island that connects via a small beach to the mainland.

San Vito lo Capo

You can find this beach on the western coast of Sicily in Trapani, it is like going back in time.  You can visit the natural reserve of Zingaro which is famous for the “tonnare” an ancient method of fishing for tuna.  There are reefs, capes and miles of sandy beaches.  While you are here make sure to check out The Island of Currents, it is the southern tip of Europe.

The Beaches of Ragusa

If you want miles of white sandy beaches with crystal clear water then you need to head to the beaches of Ragusa, there are 4 beaches here that you will absolutely love; Marina di Ragusa, Marina do Modica, Pozzallo and Sampieri.  Be sure to check them out while you’re here.

Here are some things that you need to remember while you are checking out the beaches in Italy:

  • Tourist season is July and August, you might find the beaches less crowded in June and September
  • Some beaches will charge admission, bring some cash with you
  • Lifeguards are only available between 8am and 6pm
  • Some beaches are topless, not all, so always check beforehand
  • Don’t swim too far out from the shore the water can get dangerous
  • If you see a red flag that means there are dangers from bad weather
  • To call the coast guard in Italy use 117 and not 911

Italy is beautiful no matter when you decide to travel there but the beaches in the summertime are one of the best times to be there.

A Quest for Culture

No tour of Europe would be complete without taking the time to stop and see Italy.  Located in Southern Europe facing the beautiful Mediterranean, Italy is rich in culture and history and never fails to impress even the most jaded of tourists.  Italy has some fascinating cities that should be on your must see list including Venice, Florence, Naples and of course Rome.  If you’re on a quest for culture then Italy has everything that you’re looking for, here are some of the highlights of Italy.


Rome is the center of Italian history and politics.  Rome is still the center of the Roman Catholic Church and millions of tourists come here every year to visit the sacred site.  Many Catholics come to Rome not only to see the Pope, visit the Sistine Chapel but as a devotion to their faith.  Lovers of history also flock to Rome to see all the other sites that Rome has to offer.  The Roman Coliseum is just one of the many sites to add to your bucket list.  Architecturally stunning it stands as a symbol of the majesty of ancient Rome.


One of the greatest periods in Italian history is the Renaissance period and it all began in the city of Florence.  You can still see evidence of that era in the art and architecture that defines the city.  Stop and visit some of the cities many galleries and museums such as Museo dell’Opera del Duomo or the Medici Chapel.  If you want to see an amazing view of Florence the climb the 414 steps of Il Duomo, Florence will be laid out at your feet.


No trip to Italy would be complete without taking a ride down the canals of Venice.  Venice is separate from mainland Italy and the locals rely almost exclusively on water transportation to get around.  There is no city in the world that is quite like Venice, it is a haven for lovers.  Venice has a romantic backdrop, soft music and the food is incredible.  Lovers come to Venice for the idyllic honeymoon.  The city has some historical landmarks that you should see while you are here, be sure to check out St Mark’s Square and the Piazzo San Marco.

We could spend days going over the many places to visit in Italy and experience the local culture.  These three cities are but a few, there is also wine country and the Alps in the north.  Italy is one of the most incredible countries in all of Europe, take as much time as you possibly can to tour the country at your leisure.