Do you know the Salento pizzica? Not a just a folk dance, but a centuries-old tradition that today is still able to bring joy

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Dance, magic, music, joy, love, liberation: if you asked a Salentinian what the pizzica means, he would respond with these words. Pizzica (pinch) is the famous popular dance spread throughout Salento, the heel of Italy, and has ancient origins. In recent years it has been exported and known thanks to the Night of the Taranta held in late August in Melpignano

In addition to a long and interesting history, the Salento pizzica also has the advantage of having an incredibly engaging rhythm that immediately makes you want to learn the steps of this wonderful dance.
Knowing better this somewhat magical dance is a different and fascinating way to get to know the wonderful corner of Italy called Salento.

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Pizzica from the origins to Christianity

Taranta meaning

The pizzica salentina belongs in general to the tarantellas, the typical popular dances of Southern Italy. It is very likely that its origin dates back to the pagan rites in honor of Dionysus at the time of Greek colonization, with songs and wild dances.

With the advent of Christianity Dionysus was replaced by Saint Paul, the holy healer who is often invoked in the songs that accompany the dances and by the music produced by the violin, the accordion, the guitar and the inevitable tambourine.

The Pizzica and the Taranta (the tarantula)

Salento Pizzica e Taranta

But healing from what? According to popular belief, from the bite of the "taranta", the tarantula, which would lead those who were hit to an altered state. The "victim", almost always a woman, is healed thanks to the music of the rhythm and the chanting in which the Saint is invoked, as in this text: [...] And please Saint Paul make her heal/because the tarantula pinched her/If you see that she moves her foot/that’s the sign that she wants to dance/let her dance because it’s "taranturated"/that she carries the tarantula under her foot".

In any case, between superstition and science, between magic and truth, where the mysterious pagan temples have been replaced by beautiful Christian churches, the dance that today we call Pizzica Salento not only survives, but becomes increasingly better known and loved.

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Pizzica: a dance of challenge, love and community

Salento Pizzica - instruments

From a propitiatory ritual to the health of the individual person, the pizzica has then become a heritage of peasant culture, and from there the entire Salento community. Travelling through Puglia on the road, you'll often run into people who dance the pizzica at village festivals, concerts and even at weddings. In fact, there are different types of pizzica, danced only by men, as a symbolic challenge, or in pairs, with choreographies that represent the courtship: the woman, in fact, during the dance, shakes a red handkerchief, symbol of love, used to invite the chosen partner.

In recent years, also thanks to music festivals, the pizzica has become a moment of aggregation, in which all the participants are overwhelmed by the cheerful rhythm. But how can you dance the pizzica? Alternating your feet in small jumps forward, turning in circles, moving your hands according to precise gestures. Try to find the pizzica on Youtube and go wild with this cheerful and liberating dance.

"If you see that she moves her foot/that’s the sign that she wants to dance"

What's the difference between Taranta and Salento Pizzica?

The Pizzica Salentina can be admired, listened to and danced in one of the most important events dedicated to popular music in all of Europe, the Notte della Taranta. But what is the difference between these two apparently so similar dances, both in music and movements?

In fact the difference is more historical than anything else. Although these dances both have archaic roots, the taranta as we know it today is older and at the beginning it was a real exorcism in music, a healing rite that brought people into a state of trance. The pizzica, on the other hand, was born as a dance, for a group or as a couple, to have fun together.

Where do they dance Salento Pizzica?

Salento Pizzica - Ostuni

Geographically speaking, pizzica is danced all throughout Salento, but it has some of its "capitals" not only in the Apulian cities of Lecce, Taranto or Brindisi, but also in nearby Basilicata. The marvelous City of Sassi, Matera, is certainly worth a visit in itself, even more so if you consider that even there pizzica is loved and danced as in its land of origin.

Every occasion is a good one to let loose and have fun to the wild rhythm of the tambourines. In addition to the Notte della Taranta, in fact, there are many other smaller festivals. Especially in summer, in many villages of Salento, from the best known such as Ostuni or Santa Maria di Leuca, to the smaller ones, pizzica nights are very frequent.

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