Strange Human Behavior: The Mysterious Dancing Plague of 1518 in Strasbourg (France)


I’ve already heard of dancing contests. But when I read about a dancing plague, I was baffled! Back in 1518, a dance epidemic lasted for months… And its causes are still a mystery now!

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Dancing plague of 1518 in Strasbourg. Photo: Wikipedia

This mysterious human behavior started in 1518, where people “danced themselves to death” for no obvious reason in Strasbourg, France. One woman started it, and others joined her. Within a month, there were 400 people involved. Many died from pure exhaustion. But the mystery has not yet been solved.

As described in Wikipedia:

The outbreak began in July 1518, when a woman, Frau Troffea, began to dance fervently in a street in Strasbourg. This lasted somewhere between four to six days. Within a week, 34 others had joined, and within a month, there were around 400 dancers. Some of these people eventually died from heart attack, stroke, or exhaustion.

Historical documents, including “physician notes, cathedral sermons, local and regional chronicles, and even notes issued by the Strasbourg city council” are clear that the victims danced. It is not known why these people danced, some even to their deaths.

As the dancing plague worsened, concerned nobles sought the advice of local physicians, who ruled out astrological and supernatural causes, instead announcing that the plague was a “natural disease” caused by “hot blood.” However, instead of prescribing bleeding, authorities encouraged more dancing, in part by opening two guildhalls and a grain market, and even constructing a wooden stage. The authorities did this because they believed that the dancers would recover only if they danced continuously night and day. To increase the effectiveness of the cure, authorities even paid for musicians to keep the afflicted moving. Some of the dancers were taken to a shrine, where they sought a cure for their affliction.

What do you think this was? Was this dance driven by mental illness? Anxiety and false fears? Or was it just a natural but weird phenomenon during which people just wanted to have fun?

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