During Dancing Plague of 1518, several people danced themselves to death.
The Dance Fever of 1518 was a month-long plague of inexplicable dancing in Strasbourg, in which hundreds of people danced for about a month for no apparent reason. Several of them danced themselves to death.
The mysterious stories shared online for decades state that several people ‘danced themselves to death’ in Strasbourg during the Dancing Plague of 1518. Yes, it is a fact and a mystery as detailed below.
Dancing Plague of 1518
In July 1518, a woman referred to as Frau Troffea began dancing intensely in a street in Strasbourg, Alsace (part of Holy Roman Empire then), France for somewhere between 4-6 days. Numerous people followed her in dancing for days without rest. 34 people joined her within a week, and about 400 dancers followed the same within a month. As a result of this dancing mania, considered as epidemic, dozens of the affected people died of heart attack, stroke, starvation or exhaustion!
There are historical documents suggesting the victims danced for no apparent reason, some even “danced themselves to death” until early September 1518 when the epidemic receded. Initially, astrological and supernatural causes were thought to be the reasons behind the dancing epidemic, but the local physicians ruled them out, and instead announced it as a “natural disease” caused by “hot blood”. Surprisingly, the authorities believed the dancers will recover only if they danced continuously day and night. So instead of prescribing bloodletting, they encouraged more dancing, and even constructed dancing halls and paid for professional dancers and musicians to keep the people dancing. Some of the dancers were taken to a shrine, where they sought a cure for their affliction. To make this mysterious phenomenon even weirder, there were few other dancing plagues in the same region during the medieval period, also one in Madagascar in 1840.
The hundreds of people who danced continuously for days during dancing plague of 1518 would have needed tremendous physical exertion that is not naturally maintainable; even marathon runners wouldn’t be able to do it. Although the true reasons behind the dancing plague are unknown, few possible theories were suggested.
Initially it was thought that the affected people in Strasbourg might have consumed Ergot Fungus, a psychotropic mold that grows on stalks of rye (organic version of LSD). But ergot is extremely poisonous, and is more likely to kill people before it can initiate any kind of dancing madness among starving people.
According to Historian John Waller, the people in Strasbourg were superstitious, and anxiety and false fears were rampant in the region. There was a Christian church legend saying if anyone angered Saint Vitus (a Sicilian martyred in 303 A.D.), he shall send down plagues of compulsive dancing.
Some historians suggest the dancing epidemic is a result of stress-induced psychosis (mass psychological illness), when people got into the act in a trance state. They point that the people in Strasbourg suffered severely from famine, and were under intense stress in an ongoing crisis.
A somewhat similar, but laughing epidemic broke out in 1962 in Tanzania that lasted for about 6-18 months after it started on 30 January at a mission-run boarding school for girls. The Tanganyika laughter epidemic of 1962 that occurred near the village of Kashasha on the western coast of Lake Victoria in the modern nation of Tanzania (formerly Tanganyika) was an outbreak of mass hysteria.
To conclude, although the precise reasons behind the dancing fever of 1918 in Strasbourg where dozens of people ‘danced themselves to death’ are not known, it appears like it could have been caused from mass psychological stress. Incidents like these are pretty good examples of the strangeness and complexity of the human brain.
Hoax or Fact: