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1782, "peasant dance popular in Italy," originally "hysterical malady characterized by extreme impulse to dance" (1630s), epidemic in Apulia and adjacent parts of southern Italy 15c.-17c., popularly attributed to (or believed to be a cure for) the bite of the tarantula. This is likely folk-etymology, however, and the dance is from Taranto, the name of a city in southern Italy (see tarantula). Used from 1833 to mean the style of music that accompanies this dance, usually in 6/8 time, with whirling triplets and abrupt major-minor modulations.
couple folk dance of Italy characterized by light, quick steps and teasing, flirtatious behaviour between partners; women dancers frequently carry tambourines. The music is in lively 68 time. Tarantellas for two couples are also danced. The tarantella's origin is connected with tarantism, a disease or form of hysteria that appeared in Italy in the 15th to the 17th century and that was obscurely associated with the bite of the tarantula spider; victims seemingly were cured by frenzied dancing. All three words ultimately derive from the name of the town of Taranto, Italy. Tarantellas were written for the piano by Frederic Chopin, Franz Liszt, and Carl Maria von Weber.