From Spider Bites to Soul Healing: A Journey through Pizzica Tarantata and Biodanza

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The Ritual Unveiled

In the heart of the Salento Peninsula in Italy, a mysterious ritual unfolds. A woman, believed to be afflicted by the bite of the tarantula spider, starts to move in a wild, frenzied dance. The music accelerates, her body twists and turns, and a curious transformation takes place. As she surrenders to the rhythm, her body seems to release an invisible poison, and a sense of healing pervades the air. What is the secret of this ancient dance, and how does it connect with modern understanding of psychosomatic healing?

Pizzica tarantata is a traditional dance from the Salento Peninsula in Italy, part of the larger Tarantella family of dances. Historically, it was believed that the dance could cure the bite of the tarantula spider (Lycosa tarantula). Its origins are thought to trace back to the Greek and Roman era, possibly connected with Dionysian rituals.

The dance was often performed in a frenzied state, accompanied by fast and repetitive music. It was typically danced by women who were thought to have been bitten by a tarantula. The dance was said to induce a trance-like state that could purge the venom and heal the afflicted.

Beyond the Bite: Symbolism and Contemporary Revival

Some researchers argue that the ritual may not have had a direct connection to actual spider bites but was rather a symbolic expression. Some theories suggest that the “bite” might have been a metaphor for a mental state or a way to express emotions that were otherwise socially repressed, especially among women.

Over time, pizzica tarantata evolved into a symbol of regional identity, and its contemporary revival might be more aligned with cultural preservation rather than a continuation of ancient healing practices. In modern times, pizzica has become a popular folk dance, performed at festivals and gatherings in the Salento region and beyond. It’s seen as a vibrant expression of local culture rather than a cure for a spider’s bite.

The Canzionere Grecanico Salentino, Italy’s longest-standing world music ensemble, was inspired by this tradition and brings dancers to the stage.

A view from The Dance of Life

The Biodanza theory offers a modern lens through which to view the ancient practice of pizzica tarantata. The ritual dance aligns with the principles of Biodanza, the dance of life, recognizing the interconnectedness of body, mind, and emotions.

In the past, people dancing this ritual did not have the psychosomatic knowledge we have today. They lacked the insights from scholars like Gabor Mate and Bessel Van Der Kolk that associate the healing of the body with emotions. Yet, this dance, driven by the vital unconscious and aimed at inducing vivencia, resonates with contemporary findings.

Biodanza emphasizes the body’s innate intelligence in regulating vital functions and aligns with the ancient wisdom embodied in pizzica tarantata. By examining the dance through the lens of Biodanza, we can appreciate the ways in which the dance functions as a holistic healing process, allowing the dancer to access their natural healing capacities and restore balance to their physical, emotional, and mental states without the need for medication or drugs.

Vital Unconscious

The concept of vital unconscious refers to the idea that our bodies possess an innate intelligence that regulates vital functions without our conscious awareness or control. This includes processes such as heartbeat, breathing, digestion, and hormonal regulation. These functions are essential for maintaining life, and the vital unconscious ensures that they occur automatically and seamlessly, without requiring conscious attention or effort.

The vital unconscious operates through a complex network of neurological, hormonal, and physiological processes that are constantly adapting and responding to internal and external stimuli. This network is constantly monitoring and adjusting the body’s internal environment to maintain homeostasis, or a state of balance and stability. For example, if the body becomes too hot, the vital unconscious will trigger sweating to cool down the body. Similarly, if the body is deprived of oxygen, the vital unconscious will stimulate breathing to increase oxygen intake.

While the vital unconscious operates largely outside of our conscious awareness, it can still be influenced by factors such as stress, emotions, and environmental conditions. For example, chronic stress can disrupt the body’s hormonal balance, leading to a range of physical and mental health problems. Similarly, exposure to toxins or pollutants can interfere with the body’s natural detoxification processes, leading to illness or disease. Understanding and supporting the vital unconscious is essential for promoting overall health and wellbeing.

By supporting the vital unconscious to express through movement and music, Biodanza helps individuals access their natural healing capacities and restore balance to their physical, emotional, and mental states, a process that in science is called homeostasis.

This exploration of an age-old ritual through the Biodanza perspective illuminates the transformative power of dance. It invites us to consider how movement can heal, inspire, and connect us to our most profound human essence.

Pizzica Tarantata and the Vivencia

Vivencia is a philosophical concept that refers to the subjective experience of life, including our emotions, sensations, perceptions, and personal meaning. It emphasizes the importance of lived experience, and the unique ways in which each individual navigates the world and makes sense of their surroundings. Vivencia recognizes that our experiences are not objective facts, but rather are shaped by our own unique perspectives, histories, and contexts.

A crucial element of Vivencia is the “intensity of experience,” which refers to the depth and emotional richness of an individual’s interactions with the world.

The Lines of Vivencia

The lines of vivencia are a categorization created by Rolando Toro, the creator of Biodanza, to depict different expressions of the vivencia phenomena. By categorizing these expressions in lines, it provides a framework for understanding the different types of experiences that Biodanza seeks to invite. There are 5 lines of Vivencia: Vitality, Sexuality, Creativity, Affectivity and Transcendence. In the case of the pizzica tarantata, we may want to evaluate 3 lines:

1. Vitality

Refers to experiences designed to energize and balance the neurovegetative system, enhance overall vitality, and promote a healthy, active lifestyle.

The energetic and repetitive nature of pizzica tarantata invigorates the body and enhances overall vitality. It mirrors Biodanza’s line of vivencia focused on energizing and balancing the system, promoting a healthy lifestyle.

2. Affectivity

Refers to experiences focused on building emotional connections and bonds, fostering empathy and compassion, and enhancing social skills and relationships.

Both Biodanza and pizzica tarantata foster emotional connections and empathy. Through communal dance, they build bonds and enhance relationships, enriching the social fabric.

3. Transcendence

Refers to exercises that help participants connect with the natural world, cultivate a sense of belonging to something greater than themselves, and develop a more profound sense of meaning and purpose in life.

The ancient roots of pizzica tarantata connect participants with a cultural heritage that transcends time, therefore brininging a sense of belonging and meaning.


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