The Curious Case of the Dancing Plague of 1518

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The Curious Case of the Dancing Plague of 1518

 

There is no shortage of odd moments in the rich history of the world. So many events in the past

were truly bizarre enough that they did not seem real if not for the pieces of evidence they left behind. Others have remained a puzzle to this day, as they simply didn’t have any logical explanation. One such event was the Dancing Plague of 1518. 

That’s right. History tells us that there had once been a very curious period of time in which the people of France quite literally “danced the night away.” According to Culture Trip, a website from which to get inspired by the world’s culture and creativity, this weird phenomenon began when “a woman referred to as Frau Troffea” suddenly started “dancing and wouldn’t stop for somewhere between four and six days.” 

 

Photo Credit: Culture Trip

 

Others soon followed her, and the dancing was apparently so manic that “many collapsed or even died of heart attacks, strokes, or just plain exhaustion.” At this point, anyone in their right mind might just call out this story as simply hogwash, but they might just be blown away by how much it was corroborated by other sources of the time, Culture Trip reported.

It stated further that the 15 deaths from the dancing plague were chronicled in physician notes, spoken about in sermons, and even discussed at length by the city council of Strasbourg, the place where the plague began. However, nobody could explain why it was happening. This led to the council funding musicians to keep the victims dancing, believing it to be the only cure to the plague. 

 

Photo Credit: Culture Trip

 

Some of the initial theories at the time speculated that perhaps it was nothing but an illness that caused the body of its victims to suffer rapid, violent convulsions. Modern theories suggest that it may have something to do with the chemical found in ergot fungi, which could be found in grains, such as rye, that people back used for food. Some historians believe that this chemical that is similar to LSD was responsible for causing the dancing. Others posited that it could be a kind of “stress-induced psychosis on a mass level,” as the area where it happened was in the grips of starvation and terrible disease at the time.

Interestingly, it was not only one town that experienced this phenomenon. Culture Trip revealed that seven other cases of the dancing plague were also recorded in other places in the same region at around the same time. 

 

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