Thursday, May 15, 2008


In the novel Madame Royale, it is at the ball for the King and Queen of Naples at the Palais Royale that Caroline and Hector dance the tarantella, or "tarantula." They dance even as the disgruntled Parisians howl at Charles X on the balcony, heralding the fall of the dynasty. The tarantella, a traditional peasant courtship dance from the south of Italy, expressed not only Caroline and Hector's relationship at that point, but the death throes of the regime. In Sicilian lore the motions of the tarantella were supposed to act as an antidote to the poison of a spider's bite. In France in 1830, there was no warding off the political debacle which was about to explode. The love of Hector and Caroline, however, was a reality which would surpass the rise and fall of kingdoms.

The tarantella became increasingly popular in high society; many famous composers, including Chopin, Liszt, and Rossini, wrote their own renditions of the Sicilian folk dance. The dance is described thus:
The tarantella is mainly an Italian country partner dance, which features numerous twirls and spins. It was popularized as a ballroom dance by Madame Michau in the 19th century, and performed in France and England. The ballroom dance differs significantly from the country Italian dance, but it gets the main elements down. Usually music for the tarantella is in 6/8 or 3/4 time, or you may find some versions in 4/4 time with a lot of triplets. Though the dance is partnered, many of the steps are danced away from each other, and steps together are often taken with the partners side to side instead of face to face.

Many of the steps are in triples, like triple gallop steps to left and right. In the country dance version, women can partner with other women, but the ballroom dance features a male and female partner. The dance is always vigorous, and triumphs woman’s superiority over admiring men (at least during the dance).



Terry Nelson said...

All of my best friends are Italian and this dance is danced at all of their weddings.

Catherine Delors said...

As a kid, I read Caroline's biography by Andre Castelot. Quite a woman! And very fond of dancing...