Sunday, September 29, 2013

How Suppression Led to Tarantism and Dancing Mania -Disinformation

Originally published September 29, 2013 via disinfo.com

I refuse to dance unless I’ve consumed at least half of my weight in grain alcohol (though I have been known to attempt the Dougie, as long as I’m by myself and the curtains have been drawn).  Generally speaking, a request to get down on the dance floor will almost certainly send me into a state of blind terror, accompanied by hives and the ice sweats.

You can imagine, then, my horror when hearing about “tarantism,” a disease which causes its victims to become irritable and restless, and was fatal unless treated immediately by engaging in aggressive dancing.  It was relatively common during the 16th and 17th centuries in southern Italy, and is said to be the origin of the popular folk dance, “Tarantella,” which was performed by victims as the most important part of their therapy.

Hydrotherapy was also considered to be an important part of the healing process.  Suffering would abate while listening to the soft sound of a gentle waterfall.  Cloth would be soaked in wine and wrapped around the shoulders of a dancer.  Many victims craved water and were even known to accidentally drown themselves, following deep contemplation of the ocean.

Symptoms of the disease included headaches, fainting, muscular spasms, delusions, overheating, and an increase in sexual appetite.  Its name came from the source of infection, the bite of the tarantula spider, as well as contact with other infected individuals.  There was no permanent remedy for the malady as those cured of tarantism would often relapse, the spider’s venom being reactivated by the summer heat or the overheard strains of Tarantella music being played to treat new victims.

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