The Plague That Caused People to Dance Themselves to Death

On an otherwise unremarkable July day in early 16th century Strasbourg (now in France), a woman known as Frau Troffea ran into the street and began dancing. There was no music being played, and it wasn’t a holiday or day of celebration, yet, for reasons unknown, she felt compelled to dance. She continued her solo dance performance for almost a week, when several dozen other residents of Strasbourg joined her. Roughly a month later, there were nearly 400 people dancing in the streets of the city.

This incident became known as the Dancing Plague of 1518, and, though it sounds funny, it actually ended up claiming some lives. Several dancers died from stroke or heart attack, and a handful of others died from exhaustion. Apparently, some of the dancers did not take any breaks to eat or drink, leading to dehydration in many.

The city authorities and local physicians ended up worsening the situation at first by deciding that the dancers would only recover from their mania if they kept dancing. They hired professional dancers and musicians to help keep the seemingly crazed dancers going. They also set aside locations for them to dance. It wasn’t until September, when authorities realized their efforts at a cure were failing, that the dancers were carted away to a nearby healing shrine. Only after this did the mysterious dancing plague cease.

What’s even stranger is that this was not an isolated incident in Europe. At least ten other incidences of epidemic dancing took place in different locations in Europe, going back over a hundred years before the Strasbourg incident. The 1518 plague is the best documented, though.

Many historians have tried to discover the cause of these compulsive dancing epidemics. Ergotism has been suggested as a cause. This illness occurs when people ingest ergot, a fungus that grows on rye. It can cause delusions and strange behavior. But it also affects blood supply to the arms and legs, which would have made frenzied, long-term spells of dancing impossible.

The best explanation for the dancing plague is that this was an episode of mass hysteria. This was a stressful time for the people of Strasbourg, as famine and disease were rampant. It is possible that the extreme conditions that existed caused stress-induced psychosis. This caused the first dancer to take to the streets, and then others followed. Events snowballed, and the incident became one of mass hysteria. It also helped that the Catholic inhabitants of the city believed in the curse of St. Vitus, which was said to cause frenzied dancing.

This was the last recorded case of dancing plague in Europe. Once the severe conditions eased, it did not happen again. It has also been suggested that conversion to Protestantism and the rise of rationality helped end these plagues, since people no longer believed in things like St. Vitus’ curse. Whatever caused the end of dancing epidemics, their existence shows just how powerful psychological stress can be.

Next Article
  • The Rapist Hunting Warrior Woman

    The Hundred Year War between France and England was the birthplace of many legends and tales of revenge. Years of turmoil and battles created the perfect outlet for warriors to become legends. Or they became the perfect place for you to seek your vengeance: to hunt your demons. That is what Marguerite de Bressieux did,...

    Read More
  • Swarm Robots Ready For Mass Production

    If you have had ever had nightmares about robots taking over the world, then maybe you should close this article right now. The Zebro swarm robot is an insect hive mind-like robot which is pretty much ready to be mass produced. Why are we potentially causing a Terminator plot like scenario? ...

    Read More
  • When Ants Go To War They Bring The Medics

    A species of aggressive Viking-like raiding ants actually save their wounded and then stitch them up. Yes, it appears they have dedicated doctor and nurse ants ready to save the wounded. And the incredible thing is researchers have determined that this strange behavior actually gives the injured ant a 90%...

    Read More
  • Secret Painting Found Behind A Picasso Masterpiece

    A new scanning technique put together by art researchers in the US continues to undercover amazing art secrets. The newest discovery has been found beneath a Pablo Picasso’s masterpiece: The Crouching Woman or “La Misereuse Accroupie” as called in French. Scanning systems for art pieces have existed for some time...

    Read More
  • The Man Who Fought WWII For 30 Years

    The mission was to stay out of sight and collect information about the Allied troop movements. The Location was the island of Lubang in the Philippines. Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda from the Japanese Imperial Army was tasked with a Rambo-like top secret mission: him and his four man team against the world. At least that is...

    Read More
  • Transgender Women Able To Breastfeed

    A transgender woman was able to happily produce healthy milk to feed her partner’s newborn child. A new report that was following the case shows she was able to breastfeed the baby for six weeks without any issues. This is a groundbreaking report and the first medical document of its...

    Read More
  • Your DNA Could Stretch To Pluto And Back Over 17 Times

    The human genome, the genetic code that makes a human well a human is a fascinating science. It continues to open up new doors and understanding about our wellbeing and health. Some things today we still do not fully understand. But what we do know is that the length of all your DNA combined is...

    Read More
  • The Mad Egyptian Pickpocket King

    King Farouk the last ruler of Egypt had an embarrassing and strange problem: he could not stop pickpocketing people. A bit of a bizarre trait for someone who had unlimited wealth, no? In fact, he was he caused so many problems during his monarchy that some people believe he is...

    Read More