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Pizzica in Puglia

Pizzica in Puglia

Puglia is a region in the south of Italy. You might know it as Apulia, the anglicised version of its name, which is closer to the Italian pronunciation. The shape of Italy is often referred to as a boot and in that case, Puglia is the heel. The lower half of this region, where cities like Brindisi lie, is known as the Salento peninsula, an area rich in culture where the influence of Ancient Greece is still felt to this day.

The Salento peninsula is home to a dance known as the Pizzica, a couples’ traditional folk dance. The dance plays out to a soundtrack of mandolins, guitars, accordions, and tambourines – on special occasions, flutes, fiddles, trumpets, and clarinets join the arrangement. Typically, the dance is performed in opposite sex couples, where they dance in movements that signify behaviours ranging from courtship to duelling. Though it can take different forms, when people speak of Pizzica, they are likely referring to the ‘Pizzica de Core’, which translates to twinge of the heart. This is a sensual performance of love between a woman, dancing to quickening tambourines while she thrashes a scarf – should she tire of her partner, she invites a new man to dance with her, and so on, until she finds a man impressive enough to gift the scarf, which is usually red, as a reflection of the couple’s passion.

However, even within Puglia, there exist many variations of the Pizzica – in general, men do not do this dance together, yet in some small towns, it takes the form of a battle between men, whether for honour or territory, with some sources detailing its place within organised crime groups. One defining feature of the dance is that the dizzying music speeds up throughout the performance, as if the musicians and the dancers are fighting to see who can hold out the longest. The dance, which belongs to a family of dances known as Tarantella, is said to have less romantic origins. Legend says that the dance was born as a cure for those bitten by poisonous spiders, where only the feverish movements to the pulsing rhythm of the music could restore them to health, by the expulsion of the venom from their bodies via perspiration. In fact, the word Tarantula comes directly from this legend.

So what you might now be wondering, especially if you’re planning a trip to the area, is where you can see this dance. Well, you’re in luck, La Notte della Taranta is an annual festival held in August in Melpignano – while you’ll see the Pizzica performed here, you’ll also see the dance and accompanying folklore blending with pop music and more modern traditions, this is known as neo-tarantismo. If that’s not up your street but you still want to witness or take part in this phenomenon yourself, then there are classes and shows all over the region, and if you’re lucky, you might even see it danced on the steps or piazzas of the towns of Salento.