The dancing plague

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Dancing people- Painting

The best known dancing mania started in July 1518 when Frau Troffea begun to dance all of a sudden in the middle of Strasbourg. In a week’s time about 100 other people joined her and the number of the street dancers reached its peak (400) in August.

At that time the majority of the city occupants were experiencing poverty, famine, illnesses and despair, which was caused by the failure of the religion in the sectors mentioned earlier.

The local authorities thought that the only way to cure this disease was to allow the people to dance as much as possible, to get rid of the ‘virus’.  So they facilitate the ill with hired musicians and professional dancers. They opened the guildhalls and even built a wooden stage.  Is it needless to say that all the measures taken only facilitate the dancers’ exhaustion, causing heart attacks, strokes and even death.

The explanation found at the time was that the ill consumed ergot, a substance found on rye. This has been proven to be a wrong path, since the symptoms of it are associated with delusion, but also with reduction of blood supply, resulting in partial paralysis to leg extremities. Another suspicion was that the dancers were involved in some kind of a heretic ‘game’, but this has been run out by the fact that they expressed despair and agony in their actions.

After I did some research I came across St. Vitus, considered the patron of dancers. I think that the dancers, in their misery and hopelessness fell into a trance believing that they aren’t in the favor of God. This is the only thing that can explain the fact that they kept dancing despite experiencing anemia and exhaustion. Also, after the authorities saw that facilitating the conditions to dance doesn’t work they sent the ill to pray for their souls. This solution seemed to work, the number of those suffering from the ‘disease’ was massively reduced by September.

Weird? YES!

Fascinating? YES!

Although this is a very bizarre ‘illness’, I have to say that I would love people to start dancing (out of joy this time) for a day in the middle of the streets!

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