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Modern Mysteries

'Dancing mania' mystery endures 600 years on

By T.K. Randall
June 27, 2016 · Comment icon 14 comments

Hundreds would find themselves unable to stop dancing. Image Credit: Pieter Brueghel the Elder
A peculiar affliction once left hundreds of people dancing uncontrollably in the streets of Europe.
Between the 14th and 17th centuries, cases of choreomania or 'dancing plague', some of which involving hundreds of people, were reported on numerous occasions across mainland Europe.

One particularly fascinating case began in the German city of Aachen where citizens were reported to have emerged from their homes in large numbers to writhe and twist uncontrollably in the streets.

Accounts of the phenomenon detailed how those afflicted would dance non-stop for so long that they would eventually succumb to exhaustion and end up collapsing on to the ground.

Some believed that this bizarre delirium was the result of demonic possession or even the venom of a poisonous spider, however no explanation seemed to be able to account for the phenomenon.
One particularly bad outbreak of the condition, which at the time became known as St. Vitus' dance, saw crowds of people in towns along the Rhine river dancing uncontrollably outside their homes.

Another occurred in Strasbourg in 1518 when a woman called Frau Troffea, who had started to dance continuously for no rhyme or reason, managed to 'infect' 400 people within one month.

Authorities even attempted to solve the problem by assigning those affected a guild hall and musicians in the hope that they would be able to get it all out of their systems.

Even today, the ultimate cause of this bizarre phenomenon still remains a total mystery.

Source: Smithsonian Magazine | Comments (14)

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #5 Posted by BeastieRunner 7 years ago
Definitely not the stuffy, snooty,stuck-up town from Footloose.
Comment icon #6 Posted by carolinacottontail 7 years ago
Sounds like Jazzercise gone wrong. Wouldn't that be a creepy premise for an episode of your favorite HBO show??
Comment icon #7 Posted by LoveDuet 7 years ago
I started a joke....that had the whole world laughingggg... wait...I'm mixing the lyrics. :D
Comment icon #8 Posted by Taun 7 years ago
I'd never heard of it in Germany before... I was familiar with the "tarantella" - the "dancing sickness" in Italy at about the same time though... Weird stuff...
Comment icon #9 Posted by paperdyer 7 years ago
Let's see... early disco fever? Riverdance? Being in Germany maybe a polka-a-thon. I know,an alien experiment to test the stamina of the human body. Yeah, that's it!
Comment icon #10 Posted by highdesert50 7 years ago
Perhaps a pathogen in a common food source such as regional crops or even a bread mold induced the euphoria. Reminds me of beer ... for generations, helping men to dance.
Comment icon #11 Posted by Nnicolette 7 years ago
Reminds me of a pincher bug i saw a couple days ago. It was walking in circles. I came back 7 hours later and it was still in the same spot walking in circles. Made me think about how scary it would be to malfunction and repeat an action until you die, kinda like this.
Comment icon #12 Posted by rattpoison 7 years ago
I read about this inThe Book of Lists 2years ago as a child and have been fascinated by it ever since. Seems that people tried to play music to soothe the dancers but that backfired. Apparently dousing them with cold water worked on occasion. That would be pretty scary, though, having these people come dancing through your town as people you know could "join in."
Comment icon #13 Posted by HollyDolly 7 years ago
I've heard about this too. Its really weird. I haven't heard anything about this occuring in England ,Scotland,Ireland or Wales at the time. Eventually maybe they might find out the cause,.However there haven't been more of these thank goodness. I'll have to look and see if any of these occured in Bavaria or the Black Forest region as I have relatives there to this day. I guess my family was just happy they survived the Black Death.
Comment icon #14 Posted by TripGun 7 years ago
Maybe over time the story has been misconstrued. Perhaps it became "dancing" when it was originally self-stimulation.

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