“Dancing” the Tarantella in Sorrento, Italy

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After shelling out hundreds of dollars on dance lessons before our wedding, my husband and I had resigned ourselves that dancing is best left to professionals or dimly lit spaces where no one can tell that we’re actually doing dance moves more commonly known as ‘the lawnmower’ or ‘the shopping cart’.  Our first night in Sorrento was thus spent in a dark bar with our new friends dancing in our own pathetic style.

Faces blurred to protect the innocent.
Faces blurred to protect the innocent.

The next morning, we had to face reality.  Our Competitours challenge of the day was to learn how to dance the tarantella (a traditional Italian folk dance)…and then perform it…on stage…for a grade…when neither we nor our spectators were slightly intoxicated.  Worst of all, I had just lost a toenail suffered an injury (whoa, Becky, TMI) and was limping to walk, let alone dance.

In short, we were doomed.

Regardless, we showed up at Teatro Tasso right on time, secretly wishing we were there to see their standard show instead of performing it ourselves.

teatro tasso sorrento
It doesn’t look too nerve-wrecking from the outside.

But we were Team Mercury, and we had some points to earn from dancing.  Our challenge would consist of learning three separate dances: one easy, one intermediate, and one that was difficult.  If we were lucky enough, maybe these points would help us win a cash prize at the end of the week.  If not, well, no one calls us stubborn Polaks for nothing.

Things started off simple enough, with our hostess for the day teaching us the history and tradition behind tarantella dancing.  As with all good stories, no one remembers the exact details, but the tarantella’s origin is connected with tarantism, a 15th century disease that spread in southern Italy thought to be connected to a spider bite.  Supposedly, the infected were able to shake the spider’s venom out of their blood through frenzied dancing, and over time these quick movements have morphed into an Italian folkdance.

Act like crazy people infected by a spider bite who shake poison out through frenzied movements?  We could do that.  That’s not that different from our normal dance moves, after all!

 After a few practice run-throughs and a high score on the basic dance, we were excited for the intermediate one.  Unfortunately, I think the professionals at Teatro Tasso highly overestimated our group’s skills, and the song was pretty much a disaster.  We still managed to get a high score, but that was simply because we were the “least worst” and not because we were actually good.

Our third dance was supposed to be the hardest, but our instructors dumbed it down after watching us all fail miserably at the intermediate steps.  I won’t say it was easy, but once we broke it down into individual steps, we were ready to dance with passion.  Notice I said we would dance with passion, and not necessarily with skill.  We could loosely repeat the choreography — run, kick, modified do-si-do, tambourine clap, and so on — but we weren’t exactly suave in our execution like these dancers were.

Our challenge may have originally been described as learning how to dance, but in reality, I think we spent more time focusing on not tripping each other, falling over, or crashing into other teams.  We also spent a lot of time laughing, grinning from ear to ear, and humming along to the catchy music.  In that regard, I’d call our challenge a wild success.

Seriously, who would’ve thought that we’d do well at this one?

Unfortunately, Teatro Tasso does not offer regularly scheduled dance lessons, though you can certainly ask if they have special classes while you’re in town.  Otherwise, buy tickets to the Sorrento Musical to see the tarantella in person or join a tour with Competitours to try crazy activities like this one the next time you’re in Europe. 

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