Traditions of the South of Italy: do you know Salento’s pizzica-scherma?

In Italy there are local traditions that are celebrated still today. In particular, there are dances such as the Salento’s pizzica-scherma one of the old traditions of the South of Italy. It is popular in some areas of Salento in the provinces of Lecce, Brindisi and Taranto. The symbols and tradition are what is mainly highlighted. So, here is the story of this dance that is still celebrated today on festive occasions. Here you will be able to find out everything about the clothes and accessories necessary to perform this traditional dance. Finally, you will have the chance to know how this dance is practiced and the differences from Salento’s pizzica. 

The story of Salento’s traditional pizzica-scherma 

The pizzica is a traditional dance that goes a long way back, to the times of the cults of Dionysus which were very popular in some parts of Salento. These rites came from Greece and were adopted by locals. The cult in favour of the god Dionysus was particularly observed in these areas of Italy. People let themselves loose in public. Salento, in fact, was particularly influenced by Greece. The first literary sources on the existence of the pizzica date back to the XVIII century. They mainly describe the dance that was carried out in Taranto and Brindisi.

As for the origin of the traditional dance of pizzica-scherma there are three plausible options as to how it came to be. The first option sees it as a therapeutic dance with a great symbolic value. In this dance, music and ritual are united so as to let loose. Thus, it would have been derived from the ritual of the tarantula’s bite. According to the second theory, Salento’s pizzica-scherma has a sketchy origin. It was a duel practised in the 18th century, when they would use a knife. Lastly, the third option is linked to the presence of gypsies in the Salento area. 

Traditions of the South of Italy: the clothes, the tools and the dance

Salento’s pizzica-scherma is an old dance, part of the traditions of the South of Italy. The dance comes with a very complex ritual featuring the sound of drums and accordions. The movements that are carried out during this dance have the function of miming a fight with knives. It is a duel between two dancers with the goal to hit the opponent. Every move has the function to simulate knife fighting. But that is not all, in fact during the duel there are set processes that must be carefully carried out by participants. These are:

  • provoking
  • defense
  • attack
  • hidden blows
  • pretenses.

The fundamental rules to follow during a fight are to never turn one’s back, keep a distance and always be vigilant. There are two dancers challenging each other every time. At the end of the encounter one of the two is replaced by a member of the audience. The audience gathers in a circle around the dancers and the players forming rounds and accompanying the music with the clap of hands. 

What does Salento’s pizzica-scherma look like today? 

Often Salento’s pizzica-scherma is improperly called dance of the swords. It is a dance that belongs to the group of armed dances. These consist of traditional dances during which the opponents pretend to battle it out with weapons. In this case a knife, the weapon used on this occasion, is simulated though the use of hands, with the index finger and the middle finger. Today this dance of the tradition can be admired in the lower Salento and specifically during the celebration of St Rocco in Torrepaduli in the town of Ruffano in the province of Lecce. During the night between the 15 and 16 August, pilgrims gather in front of the sanctuary. At this point the actual party starts with the formation of circles and the beat of the drums. The first two opponents challenge each other in the circle. These get larger and larger as the challenges unfold.

Featured image: Video Salento

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