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Pizzica: from the origins to today

Pizzica: from the origins to today

02.09.2020

Long skirts, fluttering red scarves, a fast-paced rhythm and bare feet that twirl non-stop: it's the pizzica, the popular dance of Salento, which overwhelms with its charm and energy. It tell, with the universal language of the body and music, the ancient history of the Salento population in the countryside, which still today protects the pizzica as an identity heritage and a symbol of local folklore.
 
The most important event, the highest expression of pizzica, is the "Notte delle Taranta" which, every year on time, is repeated in Melpignano at the end of August, in the characteristic setting of the historic center of this Salento town. The covid-19 emergency closed the doors to the most anticipated event of the Italy's heel in this unfortunate 2020, during which, by way of exception, concerts and explosive performances were held without the warmth of the public and broadcast on TV.
 
But what is pizzica and how is it born?
The pizzica is part of the “tarantella” family which, around 1400, spread throughout southern Italy. It is known by different names in the local dialects of the provinces of Lecce, Brindisi and Taranto, areas where this rite spread.
There are several theories that support the origin of this ancient folk dance: the first hypothesis argues that it comes from Greece as a rite linked to the cult of Dionysus (Bacchus) for which one should indulge in wild celebrations by dancing non-stop. A second hypothesis has it that the pizzica, also called "taranta", was a dance-antidote against the bite of the tarantula and that expert musicians accompanied by tambourines and other instruments, played until the effect of the poison vanished. While working in the countryside, it was not uncommon for people to be bitten by poisonous spiders that caused a state of trance, curable only by dancing. This event was attended and participated in collectivity, suspending the work and every rule of morality and indulging in dance in a sort of liberating moment.
Over the centuries, dance has changed and its setting has also changed: initially, when this was considered an antidote, the ritual was held with the aim of healing, within the home. Subsequently with the spread of Christianity, the figure of Saint Paul with his healing qualities approached the pinch, so when someone needed the rite to detoxify themselves from the spider's venom, they went to the Chapel of San Paolo in Galatina where it was erected in his honor a well of holy water and the rite of exorcization took place there. Today it takes place outdoors and in public, for fun, often in pairs. Fortunately the pizzica does not live only through the memories of the elderly, but continues to be part of the Salento culture, animating private parties and large events, as a sacred moment of aggregation and expression for dancers, musicians and all the inhabitants who keep this tradition throbbing. .
The pizzica can be danced in pairs as in a courtship or alone, with firm or slow steps, with fixed gazes, moving the body with circular movements, rotating the wrists and letting the hands swing. Women express all their sensuality and femininity, waving the red scarf and long skirt they are wearing aloft, while the loose hair dances with the body. The choice of the red scarf is not accidental: it is a symbol of love and passion, it is waved by the woman who through it invites the man to follow her in the dance.
The "pizzica fencing" takes place between men only in a sort of combat danced through agility movements in which you show your skill and creativity in dance, a bit like certain animal species that show off their best talent to woo the female .
During large public events, such as festivals and festivals in the square, the musicians perform the “ronda”, a song made with tambourines and voices that create a beating, energetic and incessant rhythm that involves all those present to dance.
The main musical instrument is the Lecce tambourine, often accompanied by a violin, accordion, guitar or mandolin, which accompany the voice while, in the Salento dialect, he sings poems that narrate the love that arose in the context of peasant life.
Today this dance lives on through the skill of the dancers and musicians who have picked up the notes of the pizzica and adapted the melodies and has been made known outside the regional and national borders thanks to events such as "La Notte della Taranta", at the village festivals. and at concerts. These are the best opportunities to attend pizzica shows during your trip to Puglia, if, on the other hand, you want to learn the steps, you can participate in courses held by dancers of local associations or in the farms.