Saltarello is life. It is a dance of life, of liberation, of challenge.
Saltarello contains a world of messages, proposals, waste, gambling, outburst, union and jealousy.
Saltarello is an ancient dance. They danced almost always outdoors, on the farmyards, after intense working days in the harvest, in the wheat harvest or during the holidays. It was a moment of meeting, of confrontation, of leisure from hard work, of aggregation.
They danced in pairs or in groups, performing a very rhythmic movement with legs and feet, so as to appear that the feet slipped on the ground without ever detaching from it. They are wavy steps. There is no specific scheme or rules to be respected, one must be carried away by the pressing and engaging rhythm of this music.
They can not dance only in man-woman couples, even two men who can challenge each other to conquer a woman can dance. They challenge each other to show who is most able to dance. When they challenged each other on the circular planes, they danced in a circle.
Women could also dance in pairs, always to show who among them was better. It can also be called a “detached dance”, because at that time they could not be touched, on the contrary, sometimes the man and the woman danced keeping themselves by means of a handkerchief, never touching each other. The use of the handkerchief was the instrument of connection between the dancers.
The man approaches the woman, the woman walks away. The man turns around and the woman returns to provoke him, standing out. In those days, a girl who had been approached by a boy on the street was irreparably compromised.
In the province of Frosinone there was the kind custom that in spring the young men went to place a flowery branch in front of the house of the coveted girl. If the gift was accepted, all was well and the strict procedure of a controlled engagement for the wedding began. If the homage was rejected, there were probably bad moods.
When they worked hard for a year and the season was good, when the harvest time came, the Saltarello was a great outpouring of joy and liberation to celebrate. It meant that they would eat all year, that they would be quieter and that they could get married if they could sell the wheat. They danced in these occasions by attributing also propitiatory rites.
In the aie, the best dancer was placed at the center and, following the animated rhythm of the music, performed with high jumps because, according to tradition, the higher the jump and the higher the grain would have grown, as a sign of good omen.
In Saltarello the accordion player, unlike other dances, participates in the dance. He must also dance because he is the one who incites the crowd. He must encourage and increase the intensity of the dance. The song for the ciociari of the time was also a way of life. In their songs their life is reflected. They sing love, pain and jealousy.
It is a direct song, all substance, often which an erotic double meaning: “If I take you alone in the woods, I’ll make you jump like the frog”.
The parts of which the Saltarello is made up are also controlled by the execution of “hit and response” invented at the time.
The boys, when they were intoning the stornelli for the girls, there were cases in which the man wanted to demonstrate to the woman of worth and cases in which the man made fun of the male competitor: “And you shut up that you can not sing, the donkey neighs better than you!”
The fact of singing direct messages that were immediately striking, highlights the spontaneity of Ciociaria people. A joke told to the desired girl, at the time met by chance on the street to get water at the fountain, in the only possible moment to tell her something. The simplicity and pride of these people can be seen in music, in song, in dance, in the simplicity of life.
“And shut up you, bent stuff, you are not well even by the gate of the garden!”
Saltarello is the typical dance of central-southern Italy, which is expressed with numerous variations (Saltarello, Saltarella, Ballarella, Zumparella). After World War II, migration towards urban centers, the arrival of new dance fashions and the general change in the patterns of life have led to the practice of Saltarello being lost.
In some countries of Lazio, however, Saltarello has been preserved in the traditions, thanks to the research of the new generations who, collecting oral testimonies on customs and habits, have reconstructed that heritage that is now finally safe.
How about going to Ciociaria?
This article is the first of a series on the dances, songs and costumes of Saltarello and is the result of an interview with Anna Rita Ticconi, artistic director of the Folk Group Città di Acuto (the dancers in the picture above).