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Folk - The "Pizzica"

  • La Pizzica Salentina (traditional folklore music and dance)

The popular culture of Salento contains the history of a people that led simple lives, full of suffering, but able to gain satisfaction even from the most miserable situations thanks to a great faith in the Providence. From the rustic life of its origins comes also the mystery of the taranta, a mythical animal. Historically, it is believed that in the wheat fields there laid a dangerous arachnid commonly known as the tarantola (or taranta in Salento). During the time of harvest, the legs of the wheat harvester was exposed to the venomous bite of this phantom animal.
After a period time of absence from the mind of the public, the pizzica music and dance, often felt as culturally old-fashioned and reserved largely for the outcast of society, had a come back in the 70’s and was rediscovered as a type of music that is now enjoyed and danced to by the youth; it has become almost a flag for Salento, though having similar cultural connections to other parts of southern Italy with interests in similar musical phenomenon. Today, there are three forms of the Pizzica of that era that have survived. La Pizzica Tarantata, La Pizzica de Core, and the Pizzica delle Spade.

  • Pizzica Tarantata

It is a therapeutic dance done either individually or in-group that has its origins from the very antique ritual of healing of the tarantata dancers and their pilgrimage of June 29th at the Chapel of San Paolo in Galatina. The dance of the Pizzica Tarantata is usually divided in three phases. First, the woman falls to the ground while clapping hands and feet at the rhythm of the pizzica music; then she would rise to her feet; she would then jump and dance using elaborate arm motions and holding a coloured handkerchief designed to mime certain shapes and forms. At the end, she would begin to stagger until collapsing to the ground.
This form of exorcism could occur either in the public square or at one’s home. The girl who happens to be the protagonist in the dance (la Pizzicata) would also be accompanied by other men and women during this manic dance.

  • Pizzica de Core

The Pizzica de Core is a dance that represents feelings of love, eroticism, and passion during the ritual of courting between a man and a woman. Several chronicles of the 19th Cen. describe this frenetic dance, variant of the Pizzica Tarantata: a woman dances in a frenetic rhythm waving a red handkerchief, the colour of passion, with tambourines and violins playing. The red handkerchief would be used to entice others of her choosing to join in. Once tired of one dancer, she would then choose another and then another at her pleasing, giving the hanky only to the one who is capable of stealing her heart and indulging in her desires and every fantasy.

  • Danza a Scherma o delle Spade

This original form of dance derives almost certainly from the rustic duels that were held when honour and pride were violated and placed in question or when family feuds bloodied their towns but were also held at markets and fairs. It most likely the gypsies, when they ran the cattle fairs, that introduced into the pizzica rhythm this sort of dance style which was originally one of combat using sharp weapons but losing the violent aspect in the dance, the weapons were replaced by fingers symbolic of the weapon. The movements of this dance are similar to those of an actual duel with provocations, attacks, and defences. The dance of the Spada can be admired from sun set on August 15th until dawn the next day in front of the sanctuary of San Rocco in Torrepaduli, a fraction of Ruffano. In the past, the horrified people surrounding the combatants were replaced by tourists and the curious who would dance, sing, and clap and, for the occasion, would challenge one another until the last…dance.

  • Pizzica of Today

The youth of today are not occupied by just anything but gather in the hundreds asking for tambourines and wine, dancing, singing, and seeking to enter in a trance where there is no sickness or disease.
They are not afraid to be seen; in fact, they consider doing this dance a privilege that gives them a vivid sense of their origins. They are proud to show the calluses and blisters due to the prolonged use of the tambourines and are a sign of their enjoyment. The culture behind this phenomenon is completely different from that of being possessed since it is not considered a disease to be healed and there is no shame. On the contrary, with the diffusion of this phenomenon in all of Italy and even those who now live abroad far from their native land but have been “infected” by the pizzica , they still gather together not only to dance and sing but also to enrich and develop their cultural heritage.

One does not have to come from Salento to love the Pizzica folklore. You need only to “live” as if you did. For it is not just a place on the map, but rather a life style!