Sunday, March 2, 2008

A Night of Tarantella

Yesterday, I went up to New York to take a workshop with Alessandra Belloni, a brilliant performer, healer and ritualist who uses the sacred dances and rhythms of Southern Italy for healing and empowering magick.

The four-hour workshop was completely amazing and, I suspect, life changing. It brought together so many strands of spiritual and personal work that I've been doing for the last five years, as well as my history as an actor and dancer.

We spent the first two hours working on the rhythms and chants associated with the tarantella and the Black Madonna (who, apparently, was Cybele in pre-Christian times). The rhythms are remarkable, complex, beautiful and also full of real power.

After this we began working on dances, the first being a choreographed set and the second being an ecstatic healing ritual based on the tarantella.

I came to this through a book I found at the Library of Congress called "The Land of Remorse." In the '50s, an anthropologist went to Southern Italy (where my ancestors are from, actually) and looked at the phenomenon behind the tarantella, an ecstatic healing dance meant to heal the "afflicted" from a spider bite. However, the tarantati (the name for those bitten by the spider) would exhibit similar symptoms (overt sexuality, aggression and depression) year after year, sometimes for their entire lives. Usually they were women, but men would experience this, as well. The men were often gay as were some of the women (a suspicion I had on diving into the book and confirmed by Alessandra last night). Often, these people were not bitten by a physical spider but (what I would call) a spirit spider. The tarantati would be healed through ecstatic dance, wearing bright colors and working these ancient rhythms.

This is my understanding of all this up to this point, and I am just at the very beginning of looking at all this.

For me, personally, I'm stunned at how this connects to the spider work I've been doing, the sacred dance work, my connection to Cybele, my queer spirit dedication, and my own personal ancestry. Much of this took place in Southern Italy, including Calabria, where my ancestors are from. Apparently, the Southern Italians are akin to the Native Americans - they were indigenous peoples who kept their ways even with the advent of empire and Judeo-Christian ideas.

I'm hoping to attend her all-day workshop on April 6. Most amazing!

(The photo is of a statue by Francisque-Joseph Duret, titled "Neapolitan Fisherman Dancing the Tarantella," 1833.)

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