How to dance the tarantella wedding

Italian Wedding Traditions - From Warding Off the Evil Eye at Your Ceremony to Dancing La Tarantella

Include one of these 14 Italian wedding traditions and superstitions in your marriage ceremony or reception! From warding off the evil eye and other superstitions, to choosing flowers for the procession, the order of the recession, tossing the garter, and what to look forward to at the reception - for wedding officiants and couples planning an Italian American celebration.

Planning or officiating an Italian American wedding? 



Italian American weddings have big energy, no matter what size the guest list is. 


These wedding traditions are spirited celebrations of life, love, community, and family. And because they’re rooted in a rich history of Italian culture, folklore and magic, witchcraft and superstition, deep passions, decadent feasts, and dancing that lasts long into the night -- they’re always memorable.  


The 14 traditions and superstitions below will help you bring this same vibrancy and energy to your own wedding ceremony and reception -- from tips on how to ward off “the evil eye” and uninvited evil spirits, to how to walk down the aisle, exchange rings, and dance the night away in style. 



Next, ask a friend or relative to get ordained to officiate your wedding.
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1. Beware a Friday ceremony

As any wise nonni will tell you, Friday’s the day evil spirits are created… so schedule your wedding on another day of the week if you don’t want these troublemakers at your ceremony! Perhaps a Sunday ceremony would work best… Italian folklore says it's the ideal day for blessing a new marriage with material abundance and many children. 


2. No peeking


Old Italian superstitions warn against a bride seeing her reflection in her wedding dress before the ceremony -- unless she first removes at least one glove or shoe. We’re not sure, but we suspect this goes for pre-ceremony selfies, too… because modern times call for evolving superstitions! And just as happens within many other cultures, Italian American couples often choose not to see each other the night before the ceremony, to prevent bad luck from following them into the wedding day. 


3. Ward off evil spirits


Speaking of uninvited guests… Carrying a small item made of iron in your pocket while you walk down the aisle is said to keep evil spirits at bay. Those who practice folk magic and witchcraft, including Stregheria (a form of modern Paganism with roots in Southern Europe, similar to Wicca) might also wear a cimaruta charm around their neck, as a talisman or amulet to ward off the malicious magic of the evil eye.  



A cimaruta charm, via the Italian Sons and Daughters of America website.


4. Flowers lead the way


Flowers are a big part of the Italian wedding experience, and you’ll find extravagant arrangements everywhere from the bride’s bouquet, to the hood of the couple’s car, to the centerpieces at the reception. Fiori d’arancio, or orange blossoms symbolize purity and innocence and are traditionally placed in a bride’s hair or added to her bouquet, or used to decorate the wedding cake. White flowers or flower petals have been placed along the aisle for centuries, leading from the door to the altar during the processional. 



5. The last to leave


The couple are the last people to leave the ceremony at a traditional Italian wedding, following even the wedding officiant! As part of the recessional, friends and family stand in a ‘receiving line,’ outside the venue to witness the couple’s first step into the world as married people. Guests celebrate the moment by tossing colorful paper confetti or rice and shouting "Evviva gli sposi" and "Auguri!"  (“Long live the newlyweds!” and “Best wishes!”)



6. Veils 


For good luck, Italian brides will sometimes make a small tear in their wedding veil. This custom has its start in old Italian folklore, which says that the tear is an opening through which good luck flows into the marriage. Custom also says that veil length should be proportional to the length of an engagement -- about 3 feet for every year betrothed.




White flower petals on the path to the wedding altar are considered good luck.



7. Old, new, borrowed, blue, and…


You’ve definitely heard of this one: For years, brides have incorporated something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue into their wedding day outfits as a way of honoring their ancestors, passing down heirlooms, and bringing good luck to their union. Traditionally, Italian brides add another ‘something’ to the mix, and also wear something they received as a gift.  



8. The vein of love 


Ever wondered why wedding bands are commonly worn on the fourth finger of the left hand? The tradition began with the ancient Egyptians, who inspired the ancient Romans, who believed that the ‘vein of love’ ran up the fourth finger and led directly to the heart. By placing rings along the Vena Amoris, they symbolically bound together two lovers’ hearts… a tradition still practiced widely today! Not long after the ring exchange and pronouncement, it’s likely guests will shout, “Bacio, Bacio!” (“Kiss, Kiss!”), as the newlyweds clasp hands.


9. A cut up 


After the ceremony and wedding photos are taken care of, an Italian groom cuts his tie into many small pieces and offers them to guests at the reception in exchange for money. The snipped bits of fabric are said to bring good luck in life and love, and the money helps pay for a fantastic honeymoon! 


10. Garter toss


The ‘garter toss’ is still a popular tradition in modern Italian weddings. Guests watch with delight as a groom lifts the skirt of his wife’s dress to remove her garter (the risque satin strip she wears around her thigh) and tosses it into a group of single men to predict which of them will be next to marry. Like a bouquet toss, the garter toss often leads to laughter and playful ‘competition’ among family and friends as those eager to marry clamor for the prize.


11. Something sweet


Where there’s an Italian wedding, there’s sure to be sweets! Small boxes of candy, called bomboniere, are filled with confetti -- small egg-shaped treats with a sweet outer coating and special filling -- and handed out as gifts. The most common confetti found at weddings are Jordan almonds, made by coating bitter almonds in sugar or chocolate to represent the ‘bitter and sweet’ qualities of marriage. These sugared almonds are given to guests in odd numbers, usually quantities of 5 or 7, for good luck. 


Other varieties of confetti might have a hard candy shell, filled with strawberry cream or milk chocolate. Confetti is so popular that the reception might have an entire table, called a confettata, filled with dozens of flavors.  




A table of wedding confetti, called a confettata.

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12. Food and wine

Expect many courses during dinner and many bottles of wine -- it’s an Italian wedding, after all! Traditional weddings sometimes have a dozen courses or more, and multiple tables filled with antipasto and pastries, fresh salads, and cakes soaked in rum or strega and filled with cannoli cream. But you won’t find Italian wedding soup anywhere… The famous dish isn’t actually served at weddings, instead getting its name from the recipe's unique ‘marriage’ of ingredients.  


13. A smashing success 


An old Italian tradition of breaking a glass vase or plate on the floor after the reception is said to ‘predict’ how many happy years the couple has ahead of them. This tradition isn’t as popular with modern Italian American couples, but might be making a comeback. If you include this custom in your own wedding, be sure to smash the plate thoroughly to guarantee lasting joy!


14. “La Tarantella” … and maybe some Pavarotti


Gather round, it’s time to dance the tarantella! This popular Italian dance is performed by all guests linking their arms or holding hands in a circle, to dance around the newlyweds in happy celebration. The name comes from the Italian tarantola, which means 'tarantula.' Receptions might also include one or two Pavorotti hits for tradition's sake (Funiculi Funicula, perhaps?), some Dean Martin or Sinatra for the elders, and some Ariana Grande for the younger crowd.  





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The Tarantella - La Gazzetta Italiana

At the typical Italian American wedding reception, party-goers dance in a circle around the newlyweds to a fast and upbeat tempo joyously welcoming the couple into their new life. This is the traditional southern Italian folk dance called the tarantella. 

Depending on the region of Italy, the tarantella is known by different names. In Salento, it is called pizzica (which literally translates as “bite”), in Campania, tammurriata. During our trip to Salice Salentino, our host, Enzo, took us to the small town of Galatina and the chapel of St. Paul, the town’s patron saint, to learn of the tarantella’s illustrious history. 

Legend has it that St. Paul, traveling through the town of Galatina with St. Peter, imbued a local man and his descendants with the power to heal those bitten by the tarantula spider. He blessed the water in the well of the courtyard nearby. The tarantella would begin in the chapel or the victim’s home, with dancing and music spilling out onto the public square; the tarantata (spider bite victim) eventually falling to the ground exhausted and hopefully freed of the venom by the intercession of St. Paul. They would then drink the holy water assuming that grace had been obtained. Until recent years, believers would return to the chapel on June 28 and 29, feast days of Saints Peter and Paul, to perform the ritual dances and give thanks for graces given. 

The tarantella’s roots can be traced back to ancient Greek mythology and Dionysus, the much-venerated god of wine and drunkenness. In 186 BC, the dance went underground when the Roman Senate declared the suppression of Bacchanalian rites. The tarantella reappeared much later under the guise of emergency therapy for spider bite victims. Eventually, this pagan rite would be adapted by the Catholic Church. 

In the province of Taranto in the Apulia region, it is said that during the harvest, field workers bitten by the wolf spider or tarantula would be afflicted with a hysterical condition known as tarantism. The only cure was believed to be this non-stop, frenetic dance by the tarantata accompanied by townsfolk playing accordions, mandolins and tambourines. The dance, which may have gone on for days, put the victim into a delirious or trance-like state whereby the poison would be released through the skin. This “musical exorcism” was quite a stark contrast to the courtship dance of light, quick, graceful movements; a beautiful, playful dance of flirtatious pursuit between couples that would later be performed by folk ensembles and at wedding receptions.  

During the Middle Ages, the tarantella appeared in Saxony as the dance of St. Vitus, patron saint of dancers. It is said that in 1374, there was an outbreak of manic dancing in the courtyard of St. Magnus Church angering the priest who prayed to God and St. Magnus to make the youth dance an entire year as penance. This manic dancing spread to France as well. 

In the late 19th century and into the 20th, composers experimented with and coopted the tarantella. The most famous and popular example of this was by a Neapolitan duo who wrote “Funiculi, Funicula.” In 1954, ballet master George Balanchine choreographed a pas de deux to Gottschalk's “Grande Tarantelle, Op. 67” (circa 1866). Chopin, Liszt, Rossini, and Heller all wrote tarantellas for the piano. “Balla Beddha Mia,” a pizzica of the genre of tarantellas, is the most popular song from the Salento region today.

Throughout Apulia, La Notte della Taranta (Night of the Tarantola), a month-long festival, has been held since 1998. Every August, amazing dancers and musicians devoted to preserving pizzica and its traditions perform before huge crowds in different towns of the region. 

Due to the influx of Italian immigrants at the turn of the 20th century, the dance was brought to America. The Tarantella has been depicted and often parodied in many American films: the Marx Brothers' “A Night at the Opera,” “The Godfather,” “The Sopranos,” and most recently in 2017 in the series “Portlandia.”

I am happy to say it is still an important tradition to dance a lively tarantella at Italian American weddings and is an entertaining folk dance performed in traditional costume at many festivals in America and in Italy. 

Tarantella - dance until you drop

Tarantella - fun in Italian

In Italian culture, the word "tarantella" evokes the image of a frenzied dance, performing which people constantly whirl. This dance, which today can be seen at almost every Italian wedding, comes from Southern Italy, has a rich history and has been overgrown with incredible myths for several centuries.

Where did this temperamental dance come from? Initially, Italian folk dance was intended only for the lower and middle classes. It was used as a dance to heal illness, or as a dance to symbolize courtship. In the courtship dance, a woman uses personal dexterity, grace, and flexibility to arouse passion in her partner. In turn, the man tries to charm her with his dexterity, elegance and display of tenderness. The dance is a symbol of unity and separation, in which the dancers literally fly into each other's arms after they meet after a long separation. It has always been considered an unlucky sign to dance the tarantella alone, so this dance was always performed by couples or two women. The tarantella is usually performed in 6/8 or 3/8 time signature. nine0004

Tarantella - a dance with ancient roots

The earliest historical mention of the tarantella is the St. Vitus dance in 1374. After that, the dance was never mentioned until 1839, when it was again presented to the public as the name of the ballet " La Tarentule by Jean Coralli. In 1844 Madame Michaud introduced the dance to the general public.

There are three possible origins of the dance. The first originates from the bite of a tarantula spider. The dance itself was used to treat poison from a spider bite. People played music, and the patient danced continuously to disperse the blood and neutralize the effect of the poison. nine0004

The second version of the origin is related to the religious story of the dance of St. Vitus, which is usually called the beginning of dancing in the Middle Ages. According to the myth, young people in Saxony danced in the cemetery of St. Magnus. Fifteen boys and four girls danced and sang so loudly that they woke up the priest. The indignant priest began to pray to God and Saint Magnus made the youth dance continuously for a whole year.

Happy wedding dance

A third possible origin of the dance is told in the villages of Toranto and Tarantum. The ZheTaneuns who work in this area used a frenetic dance where they were bitten by spiders to expel the poison through their pores in their sweat.

The tarantella dance is not limited to Italy. In Buzabatta, Persia, there is a tarantella dance very similar to that performed in southern Italy. The "furlana" or "fourlanes" danced in Venice are also very similar to the tarantella, although they are less popular in the region and are danced mostly by gondoliers. Saltarello in Rome and Venice is also similar to the tarantella. nine0004

titles, ancient and modern, incendiary Tarantella


It is believed that traditional Italian dances began to take shape in the 15th century. Prior to this, the dance movements of the Italians did not differ in variety and did not have clear patterns and rules.

The Renaissance changed the attitude towards God and culture in general. The nature of Italian dances has changed - lightness, smoothness, and speed in movements have appeared. nine0039 Step-by-step smooth combinations began to turn into the so-called balli - light movements at a fast pace. Symbolism appeared in the dances - holding a full foot on the floor, the dancer, as it were, connected with the Earth, standing on his toes - aspired to the Divine.

Noble Italians invited the choreographer Gugliermo Ebreo da Pesaro and Domenico della Piacenza, a well-known dance theorist in the 15th century, to create the cultural heritage of the country. Thanks to these people, new dance movements appeared, old dances were reworked, many steps were taken from the culture of other peoples. nine0004

Here is a list of the most incendiary ancient and modern Italian dances:



Gagliarda - translated as "fun" - is considered the oldest dance in Italy. Galliard was performed in pairs or solo. The main features of the dance are jumps and a combination of five steps. Over time, Galliard acquired the ordinary stiffness of court dances, became slow, and by the end of the 17th century, she switched to music. After Italy, this dance spread to other countries of Western Europe. The galliard was the favorite dance of the English Queen Elizabeth I, and despite the speed of the tempo, she danced it even in her middle years. nine0004

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Tarantella is a fiery, energetic dance popular in southern Italy, especially in Calabria and Sicily, although the Neapolitan tarantella is considered the classic version.

According to one version, the name of the dance comes from the name of the Italian city of Taranto. According to another legend, the tarantella was a way to cure the madness caused by the bite of a tarantula - "tarantism". The fast paced, jumping dance allegedly helped to disperse the blood and counteract the spider's venom. In the 16th century, special orchestras walked the streets, to the music of which people danced the tarantella for hours. Couples or individual dancers form a circle while dancing, moving clockwise, then suddenly changing direction.

Dance music was played on guitars, flutes, percussion or keyboard instruments, often accompanied by m songs and tambourines or castanets in the hands of the dancers. nine0039 In the Middle Ages, the church considered the dance the embodiment of female lust and banned it. But already in the time of Cardinal Barberini, the dance was again allowed and began to be performed at court. Nowadays, the tarantella is sometimes danced at Italian weddings and at the Notte della Taranta - festival held in Melpignano.


Pizzica is a type of tarantella native to Salento, widespread in Apulia, Basilicata and Calabria.

Like a tarantella, pizzicata dances in a circle, accompanied by hand gestures and sharp turns. But unlike the tarantella, pizza is performed only as a duet.

On holidays in the family circle, a couple can be same-sex relatives. In the old days, a scarf on the shoulders of a woman was an obligatory attribute of the dance. The dance itself is similar to courtship, when the lady slips away, and the gentleman tried to win her favor, namely, to pick up the handkerchief. There is a variant of the dance with swords, when scenes of battles and duels were played out. nine0004


Bergamasca was a dance of the peasants of the province of Bergamo, but quickly became popular among other classes of Western Europe.

For example, the final dance in the first scene of the fifth act of Shakespeare's comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream was precisely the bergamask. This is a rhythmic, lively dance with a corresponding clear musical accompaniment. And although dance has gone out of fashion, a rich musical heritage remains in the compositions of Bach, Debussy, Rossi and other composers. nine0004


Saltarello is a musical genre popular during the Renaissance, resurrected as a dance in the 18th century. From Italian saltare is translated as "to jump", which is reflected in the movements of the dance - jumps, bows and turns.

The dance begins slowly, the gentleman invites the lady to dance, and she pretends not to want to dance. After that, a signal is given to start active movements, and as the dance progresses, the tempo of the music increases. nine0038 Since the middle of the 20th century, Saltarella has been popular at weddings, harvest festivals and carnivals. Saltarella music has come down to us in suites and overtures by Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Castellono.


Pavane is a slow court ballroom dance that replaced the bass dance in the 15th century.

Pavane (La pavana) was distinguished by grace of movements, pretentiousness of manners and solemnity. The courtiers dressed in brocade and velvet, the gentlemen wore cloaks and swords, and the dresses of the ladies were decorated with trains. nine0039 The whole dance consists of a simple or double step, or a combination of both, with occasional curtsies and a change of position of the partners. Pavane was danced at the beginning of the festivities and at balls, he did not go to the people. It is believed that the dance originated in the city of Padova (Padova) and also its name is similar to the Latin version of the word "peacock" - "pavo".

Dances of Sardinia

Sardinian folk dances were performed, as a rule, during religious holidays, in honor of a successful harvest or hunting. They often danced around the fire, holding hands, thus symbolizing unity with the team. Some dances, such as ballu antigu, were danced without music, with one person singing. The ballu tzivile dance resembles a polka or a mazurka in movements, and during the serpentina dance, the dancers form a kind of snake. nine0004


Ballet (Balletto) originated in Italy during the Renaissance, although gained popularity in France. The name itself comes from the Italian verb ballare - “to dance.” Initially, ballet was the dance part of the Italian opera. The French, conquered by the skill of Italian choreographers, invited them to their court, as a result of which, since the 17th century, it was France that became the center of ballet mastery.

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