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Dances with Spiders: Crisis, Celebrity and Celebration in Southern Italy

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Volume 4

Epistemologies of Healing

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Dances with Spiders

Crisis, Celebrity and Celebration in Southern Italy

Karen Lüdtke

224 pages, 19 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-84545-445-6 $135.00/£99.00 Hb Published (December 2008)

eISBN 978-1-84545-875-1 eBook

Hb View cartYour country: United States - Click here to remove geolocation   Buy the eBook from these vendors Request a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format) Recommend to your Library Available in GOBI®


Overall, this book is very well researched and beautifully written. It is a great resource for all—scholars and laypeople—interested in Italian culture and folklore, medical anthropology, and the relationship between the performing arts and healing.”  ·  Italian American Review

The author’s poetical, yet not rhetorical, prose gives the book’s ambitious project a fluent and realistic description that makes you feel as if sitting among the olive trees in Salento or admiring the baroque stuccos of Galatina. ..As a reader one is impressed by how respectful and rigorous is the author’s description of the homes of the “Tarantati” and by her attempt to reach their psychic sufferance.  ·  Nordic Journal of Music Therapy

In sum, Karen Lüdtke's Dances with Spiderssheds clear and compelling light on how (and why) ancient rituals change over time and serve contemporary needs. Well written and engaging, the author weaves wit into her work... [that] points the way for future research by getting at the real people that postmodern anthropology tends to overlook. Finally, it raises questions that merit further study.  ·  The Catholic Historical Review


For centuries, the rite of the tarantula was the only cure for those ‘bitten’ or ‘possessed’ by the mythic Apulian spider. Its victims had to dance to the local tarantella or ‘pizzica’ for days on end. Today, the pizzica has returned to the limelight, bringing to the forefront issues of performance, gender, identity and well-being. This book explores how and why the pizzica has boomed in the Salento and elsewhere and asks whether this current popu- larity has anything to do with the historic ritual of tarantism or with the intention of recovering well-being. While personal stories and experiences may confirm the latter, a vital shift has appeared in the Salento: from the confrontation of life crises to the vibrant promotion and celebration of a local sense of identity and celebrity.

Karen Lüdtke received her DPhil in Social Anthropology from the University of Oxford. Aspects of her research on the performance arts and well-being in the context of the Salento have been published in the edited volumes Music as Medicine(Ashgate, London) and Performing Ecstasies(Institute for Mediaeval Music, Ottawa).

Subject: Medical Anthropology Performance Studies
Area: Europe


List of Illustrations

Introduction: Tarantula Territory

  • Salentine Tarantulas: Spider Dances and Discourses
  • Tracking Down the Spider: Research Techniques and Intentions
  • Crisis, Celebrity and Celebration: Contextualizing Salentine Tarantulas
  • Preview: Summarizing this Book


Chapter 1. Seeking St Paul: Historical and Contemporary Enactments

  • Dances at Galatina: a Crossroads of Old and New Tarantati
  • Dances on Screen: Invention versus Intention
  • Maria’s 1959 Domestic Ritual: a Historical Performance
  • Ada’s 2001 Dance on TV: a Contemporary Performance

Chapter 2. Webs through Time: Origins and History of Tarantism

  • Possible Origins: Searching for Tarantism’s Roots
  • Historical Interpretations: Explaining the Tarantula’s Cult
  • De Martino’s View: a Key Point of Reference
  • Recent Studies: Continuing the Quest for Answers


Chapter 3. Curing Myths and Fictive Cures: Views of Believers and Sceptics

  • Tarantism as Cure: Debates in Favour of the Tarantula
  • St Paul’s Grotto: a Contested Site
  • Spider Poisoning: a Contested Case
  • Tarantism as Fiction: Debates Against the Tarantula

Chapter 4. Ads and Antidotes: Celebrity versus Conservation Taranta-muffin, Techno-pizzica, Tarantavirus: Hybridizing the Pizzica

  • The Festival of San Rocco: Revitalizing and Commercializing Traditions
  • La Notte della Taranta: a Music and Media Spectacle
  • La Sagra dei Curli: a Community Festival

Chapter 5. Sensing Identities and Well-being: Personal Motivations and Experiences

  • The Alla Bua: Music for Healing
  • Tanya’s Story: Dancing Colours
  • Ada’s Story: Retrieving Soundness


Chapter 6. SpiderWoMen Transfixed: Negotiating Crisis and Cure

  • Diagnosing Spiders: Identifying Tarantula Cases
  • Views on Venom: Interpreting the Spider’s Bite
  • Tarantula Alternatives: Choosing Treatment Options

Chapter 7. Tarantula Threads and Showbiz Airs: Fine-tuning Performances

  • Spider Sites: Performance Places
  • Spider Schedules: Performance Times
  • Tarantula Threads: Past Props and Techniques
  • Showbiz Airs: Present Props and Techniques

Chapter 8. SpiderWoMen Transformed: Celebrating Well-being

  • Magic Circles: Allowing Music to Take Over
  • Rhythmic Intervention: Choosing to Entrain
  • Vibrating the Spider’s Web: Tapping a Source of Vitality
  • Integrating Toxins: Connecting Self and Other
  • Transforming Identities: Evoking a Sense of Belonging


Chapter 9. Dancing Beyond Spiders

  • Evelina’s Story: Living with the Tarantula
  • Tarantula Rhythms: Reflections on Performance and Well-being


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