Barbara Amalberti is originally from Italy and, after a few years of nomadic living, moved to Australia in 1991. She lives in Melbourne with her Australian husband and their two teenage daughters, and is a counsellor who specialises in working with migrants.
For more from Barbara (including more information about her migrant counselling services), check out her website, here: https://www.migrantsforlove.com. If you live in Melbourne and are interested in learning the traditional dance of tarantella, get in touch with the Tarantella School of Melbourne, here: https://www.melbourneschooloftarantella.com.au/.
I was born in Italy, in a region called Liguria – the thin strip of land in the north-west of the country, enclosed between the Alps and the Mediterranean.
Growing up, I wasn’t aware of any traditional Ligurian dancing or music. In fact, as a young woman, I considered that type of entertainment to be quite old-fashioned and dull. But life is unpredictable, and now, more than thirty years later, I find myself passionately dancing to Southern Italian music, on the other side of the world.
In my experience, childhood mindsets are hard to shake, and I attended my first class at The Melbourne School of Tarantella with a little reluctance. It was my friend’s enthusiasm – and my need to find a way to exercise that did not involve Lycra – that made me decide to give it a try.
On the first evening, the group was small and I felt a bit out of place. Most of the dancers were second-generation Southern Italians, had some sort of cultural connection to the music, and were confident and totally at ease with the steps.
Nevertheless, by the end of the night, I was totally hooked.
Tarantella is the name of a group of traditional folk dances from the south of Italy, and in that first class, I realised how little I knew about their cultural and traditional significance. Like many migrants, I feel a strong pull towards my origins; a need to know more about where I come from and to acknowledge my roots. With age, these feelings are getting stronger.
Rosa, our knowledgeable and passionate teacher, has been running the Melbourne School of Tarantella since 2011. She started the class by telling us about the meaning of the dances – the obvious and the less obvious. For me, that was the start of a journey into a culture that had been familiar to me, but at the same time alien.
These ancient dances were at the base of community life. People gathered together – young and old – and found a place to express themselves, to court, to meet; to interact through familiar steps to the sound of music.
The origins of the Tarantella are also linked to pagan beliefs, and the dances were born to express the myth of creation. Some steps are inspired by nature, like the movement of the planets or the waves of the sea, while others reflect manual agricultural work, like harvesting or planting. The dancers move around each other in a circle, mimicking courtship – the man chasing the woman, moving closer and then running away.
Contrary to what I had thought, I found this music to be grounding and earthy. It helps me to be focused and stay in the present.
Although it’s fun and light-hearted, at times it’s also a form of meditation for me, and I cherish the moments when I feel lost in the music.
They say that folk music is making a comeback in Italy, and particularly in the south of the country. Young people are rediscovering the values of these ancient sounds, and many talented musicians are mixing the old with the new, creating a very exciting musical scene.
My dancing group has become the highlight of my week, and today I find that it’s much more than a way to keep fit.
Paradoxically, I feel that living on the other side of the world has given me the opportunity to learn more about the traditions of my own country, and to find a closeness to them I had never explored before. I have also discovered that it is possible to change childhood mindsets after all!
© Barbara Amalberti, 2019