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Fanny Essler 1840 - dancing the ' La Tarentule'

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La Tarentella Dancer
Tarentella Dance History Page Title
   Originally, the Tarantella (Pronounced As: târntel) was a legitimate Italian folk dance of lower to middle classes. The Tarantella has gone by many odd and similar spellings such as Tarentule, Tarantel, Tarantella, and Tarentella . The name essentially means in English "Tarantula Spider (pronounced tranchl.") In Buzabatt, (near Kashan, Persia), it was reported that a Tarantella dance existed just as in Sicily. If the spider specified as "Stellis" had poisoned anyone, they were advised to dance to the sound of music.

   It was considered severely unlucky to dance the Tarantella alone, so it was danced as a couple or by two females (Goethe says three,) which was probably more due to the boredom of dancing it alone.  Love and pleasure are apparent throughout this dance. Each motion, each gesture, is made with the most voluptuous gracefulness.

Animated by the accompanying mandolins, tambourines and castanets, the woman tries, by her rapidity and liveliness, to excite the love of her partner, who, in his turn, endeavors to charm her with his agility, elegance, and demonstrations of tenderness. The two dancers would unite, separate, return, fly into each other's arms, again bound away, and in their unlike gestures alternately express love, coquetry and inconstancy.


   How long has it been around, I don't really know, but the earliest writings I can find mention the St. Vitus dance in 1374 and nothing until Jean Coaralli, who in 1839 produced the ballet called "La Tarentule.  "Madame Michau (c.1840's) introduced the dance to the dancing public in 1844 (this version was often used in ballets.) However, it was said that: "to dance the Tarantella in ballroom circles, as they danced it at Naples would be impossible" and going on to say "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."

There are three sources for the origination of this dance.
One is the bite of the Tarantula, Arania or Apulian Spider (= Lycosa Tarantula) or Wolf Spider (Tarantula being most popular.) The dance was used apparently to cure the bite of the spider (a cure if you will.) 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.

  • Others say when bitten, the Tarantula spiders venom, would make the person uncontrollably move about as if dancing. In 1374 (other reports say 1021), an "Outbreak of Dancing in the Middle Ages " referred to as the St. Vitus Dance that went unexplained until the realization that these dancers had been bitten by the Tarantula spider. (1374 - Aachen, Germany-dancing madness, lasting hours, believed due to the bite of the Tarantula Spider, also considered to be first dance marathon in history.)

  • The Third story is of the town's named Toranto and Tarentum, its supposed origin. Women working in the fields, who would be bit by the Tarantula spider would dance off the venom. It is said that having been found that profuse perspiration, which seemed to force the poison out through the pores of the body, was the only remedy for the bite of this venomous spider, and as exercise was their chief means of inducing perspiration. (Many believed back then that the this Spider's bite to be deadly, and during those times, there was no anti venom available.)

    St. Vitus Dance...
       The Religious story says (Nuremberg Chronicles-1493); "young people of Saxony were dancing in the churchyard of St. Magnus . There were fifteen youths and four maidens and they danced so much and sang so loudly that they disturbed the priest, who was saying mass. He left the chapel and came out to them, asking them to desist; but, heedless of his injunction, they continued their sport. The priest then prayed to God and to St. Magnus to make them dance for a whole year as a punishment. The writer, says that a girl's arm came off in the hand of her partner, but she danced on; that they felt neither rain, nor cold, nor heat, nor hunger, thirst, or fatigue; their shoes and their clothes wore out, but they danced on. They trod down the ground to such an extent that they made a deep hole in it, but they danced on; and only at the end of a year did their release come. The rage became endemic, and in 1374, the number of sufferers from the St. Vitus dance became enormous. In France, it was called "Danse de St. Guy," and in Germany, it took the name of "Veith ," In Lorraine, it was called "La Danse de St. Jean. " as well as being named others such as Choromania, Tanplage and Dance of St. Modesti.

       The new American Encyclopedia (1870) gives the most reasonable version, which in conformity to truth. Quote: "It (the disease) was long supposed to be caused by the bite of a large spider called the "Arania Tarantula. " Nevertheless, just as scarcely, any of those afflicted with it, had any consciousness of having been bitten by a spider or any other insect. As it had been in every instance propagated mainly by physical contagion, like Chorea, Demonomania, and other kindred affections. There was every reason to believe its origin from a similar cause. " Whatever its origin however, all authors agree that music and dancing was the established and almost universal in remedy. Carlo Blasis writes in the 1860s:

          "Claritio and Serrao, two Neapolitan physicians, have proved by various experiments, that all that has been said with regard to the bite of the Tarantella spider, is false. The terrible accounts given of it arise from ignorance and prejudice, and are propagated by quackery.

    Experimenting discovered that music was the only incentive sufficient to stimulate the unhappy sufferers to action. The music employed on these occasions was of the most lively and electrifying character of the violin, guitar, or dulcimer, (the castagnette is mentioned) and had the effect to cause them to dance and leap about until the profusion of perspiration drained the poison from their system.

    The Furlana or Fourlane of Venice was very similar to the Tarantella except it is executed "more ragged and irregular" and was much in vogue among the gondoliers. It is very lively, and its music is 6/8 time, played in a molto-allegretto style. It is called Fourlane because of its having been first danced in the Frioul . This dance is very similar to the Tarantella, but not quite so diversified.
  • The Saltarello , which was danced very much in Rome and Venice, and which is not unlike the Tarantella."

    Goethe describes the dance as follows (paraphrased):
       "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.)

  • Sachs describes the couples' version as follows (paraphrased):
         "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."

  • Note: Most pictures of this dance are similar looking to a Flamenco and or Bolero.
    The Tarentella is a popular Wedding Dance & Song.... $ Get Weddings for Dummies (Tarentella included) + the song $ Tarantella Tradizionale. [listen]... A good compilation of Tarentella songs on CD here.

  • Birth Place

    Creation Date


    Dance Type

    Saxony 1374? St. Magnus Priest Folk

    Posters, Lobby Cards etc.

    Sheet Music Covers

    Blank Row
    n/a Tarentelle  

    Music Titles

    Click for a free sample of this song 1890 - $ Alla Tarantella Click for a free sample of this song Slavyanskaya Tarentella (Dargomizhsky) Click for a free sample of this song $ Tarentella (Las Vegas Strings)
    Click for a free sample of this song 1907- Tarentella in A flat Major Click to play a sample $ Tarantella (Radio Cut) Modern Music Click for a free sample of this song $ Tarantella Cefalù (Gino Finocchiaro)
    Click for a free sample of this song 1913 - Tarentella (Lucantori) Click for a free sample of this song Tarantella di Amuri Click for a free sample of this song $ Tarantella Del Daivolo
    Click for a free sample of this song 1912 - Saint Vitus Rag (Johnson/Hill) Click for a free sample of this song $ Tarantella di lu sorrisu Click for a free sample of this song $ Tarantella Del Gargano
    Click for a free sample of this song 1960s- Tarantella guiseppina Click for a free sample of this song $ Tarantella marzanese Click for a free sample of this song $ Tarentella di Napoli (Joel F. Perri)
    Click for a free sample of this song 1962 - Twist Tarantella (Prima) Click for a free sample of this song Tarantella Sbarazzina Click for a free sample of this song Tarentella in A Minor
    Click for a free sample of this song $ Chopin's Tarantella (Chopin) Click for a free sample of this song $ Tarantella Sincera (Cresenzo) Click for a free sample of this song Tarentella, La (Jullien)
    Click for a free Song Sample $ Godfather Mazurka and Tarentella Click for a free sample of this song $ Tarantella Storta Free Sample of Song $ Tarantella Neapolitana (Costa)
    Click for a free sample of this song $ Introduction and Tarantella Op. 43 Click for a free sample of this song Tarantella Taormina Click for a free sample of this song Tarentella/ Tarantella (Sicilians)
    Click for a free sample of this song L'air Turchesca (Main Song used) Click for a free sample of this song $ Tarantella Tarantata Click for a free sample of this song $ Tarentule-Tarentelle (CD)
    Click for a free sample of this song $ La Danza - Tarentella Free Sample of Song $ Tarantella Tradizionale Click for a free sample of this song $ Tempo Di Tarantella (Tch)
    Click for a free sample of this song La Turturella / Napolitana (de Gorzanis) Click for a free sample of this song Tarentell (Heller)    
    Click for a free sample of this song $ Nocturne and Tarantella Click for a free sample of this song $ Tarentella (Hit Crew Party)    
    Click for a free sample of this song $ Romantic Love Songs Click for a free sample of this song Tarentella (Drdla)   CD: La Tarantella: Antidotum Tarantulae
    Click for a free sample of this song Sicilian Tarentella       CD: Serenades & Tarentellas
    ... View More: Tarentella Titled Music List

    Night Clubs



    n/a Palace Theater (4/26/1911) Buzabatt, Persia
                London, England
                Sicily, Naples & Toranto Italy
                Strasburg, Epidemic of (1418)

    Other Dances of the time...

    Ballet Dance of Death Furlana Sicilian Pole Dance
    Cachucha Danse de St. Guy La Danse de St. Jean St. Vitus Dance
    Choromania Dance of St. Modesti Polka Tanzplage
    Cicerenella El Olana (Montez) Saltarella Tuscan Tresca
    Cracoviene Folk Dancing Sicilian, The Veith

    Films / Movies (Reportedly)



    1940 - Synchromy No. 9* Majestic Theatre (1935) 1839 - La Tarentule (Essler)
    1940 - Taratella* (Short)       1850 - Morlacchi Ballet (Boston)
    1953 - Tarantella napoletana       1870 - La Tarentule (Fanny Essler)
    1962 - Twist all Night (L. Prima)       1907- Les Sylphides
    $1989 - Tap?       1919 - Boutique Fantasque (Massine)
    $1996 - Tarantella [DVD]       1935 - Boutique Fantasque(Massine)
    The Godfather?       Nutcracker, the
            Saltarello (St. Leon's Ballet)


                $ Remember the Tarantella
                $ La danza della piccola taranta

    Dancers, Choreographers etc.

    1839- Fanny Essler 1907- Anna Pavlova 1919- Leonide Massine
    1839- Jules Perrot 1907- Vera Fokina 1923- Constantin Tcherkas
    1844- Madame Michau 1909- Tamara Karsavina 1930s- Marian Ladre
    1859- Martha Muravyeva (saltarello) 1919- Lydia Sokolova Miss Sinden
      Lydia Thompson 1996 - Carol Dante

    Books, Magazine Articles on the dance...

    Title Author Published Publisher
    Anatomy of Melancholy Burton 1500s n/a
    Magnes sive de arte magnetica opus tripartitum Kircher 1641 n/a
    Les Theologie des insectes n/a 1800s n/a
    The Epidemics of the Middle Ages Hecker, J.F.C. 1859 n/a
    Coulon's Hand Book Coulon, Eugène 1860 Jullien & Co.
    Dance Encyclopedia Chujoy, Anatole 1949 A.S. Barnes
    $ Tarentella Elliott, Carter
    1986 Associated
    $ Remember the Tarentella (when available) Moorehead, Finola
    1995 Womens Press
    $ The Madness of Prince Hamlet (great article) Youngson, Robert M.
    1999 Carol and Graf
    $ The Knot Guide to Wedding Vows and Trditions: Music, Dance, Toasts, Rituals etc. Roney, Carla, The Knot 2000 Broadway
    Cases of the Epilepsy, Hysteric Fits, and St. Vitus Dance John Andree 2010 Biblio Bazaar
    On the Cure of Epilepsy, Paralysis, St. Vitus' Dance and other diseases of the nervous system. George Down 2010 General Books LLC

    Composers, Writers



    Chopin, Frédéric François (1810-1849) Connie Francis n/a
    Coppola, Carmine (Godfather-Tarentella)        
    Costa, Bill        
    Dargomizhsky, Alexander Sergetevich (1813-1869)        
    Drdla, Franz        
    Giacomo, Gorzanis (1525-1575)      
    Jullien, Louis [Roch Albert] (1812-1860)      
    Liszt, Franz (1811-1856)    
    Lucantori, Giovanni (c.1913)
    Sicillians, the Four
    Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Il'yich (1840-1893)
    Weber, Friedrich Ernst von (1786-1826)
          Tarantella Film Folk Costumes

    Misc. Research Words that may be related ... to help your searches

    1233 - Great Hallelujah Otranto Sydenham's Chorea Tarantula Spider
    1237 - Erfurt-Germany (Arnstadt) Pied Piper Taranta St. Vitus Cathedral (Prague)
    La Tarentule St. Vitus Dance Tarantism Allegria

    Note: "Paracelsus" aka: Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (1493-1541) was a phony doctor who wrote about this dance in the 1500s.

    Basic Steps: (Coulons Book - 1860)

    Tarantas dancers
    • (If as a Couples Dance, hold is position of the Waltz.)
    • Three Galop 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.
    1. Three Galop steps and slide the other foot forward in turning very rapidly, and repeated three times.
    2. A jetté in turning, fouetté, temps levé, and chassé... four times.
    3. Echappé, and eight Galop steps in crossing the room obliquely, facing his partner and holding both of her hands, and return in the same way to their places.
    4. Four Galop steps without turning, four jettés in turning and remaining in the same place.
    5. Eight glissades turning to the right and the same to the left.
    6. Galop steps steps forwards, slide the foot backwards, and at the same time turn short round rapidly (this three times), and the compass step? (done four times.)
    7. The music is an animated measure in six-eight time.

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