It was the year 1518 in Strasbourg, a city in the Roman Empire(currently in France). A woman named Frau Troffea began dancing on the streets. Her family members tried to stop her, but she didn’t listen. She danced for hours and eventually fainted from exhaustion. Frau Troffea was carried back to her home. But as soon as she regained consciousness, she went back and began to dance again. Seeing this as a general street performance, various other people joined in. By the end of the day, around 34 people were dancing. No one understood the reason for this behaviour. This small event, which later led to several deaths, came to be known as the Dancing Plague.
Government’s Actions and Its Consequences
Soon the news spread widely and the government decided to take action. Doctors and psychologists were hired to understand people’s strange behaviour. They concluded that it was a condition called Hot Blood. They suggested letting the people dance and they would eventually stop as they got calm. Therefore, the government arranged for music and hired professional dancers to assist the dancing citizens. It turned out like a festival in the town. Hundreds of people joined in for the dance. Some fainted and some even died in the event but the dancing did not stop. Most of them were forcibly carried away and locked up to prevent them from dancing. But the others couldn’t be saved. Somewhere around 100 to 400 people died from stroke and exhaustion due to dancing.
Superstitions and Scientific explanation of the dancing plague
When this dancing plague was at its peak, it was a popular belief that it was caused by the curse of Saint Vitus. The main reason for this belief was that people used to dance around his statue on his birthday praying for good health.
With the development in science and technology, many researchers gave their theory for the cause of this action. One of the theories suggests that it was due to the consumption of a substance called Ergot which can cause various psychological effects. Contradicting this theory, some brought up the fact that ergot is poisonous, therefore if consumed will cause weakness and make it nearly impossible to dance for such a long time. Some researchers even say that this was a mass hysteria that was spread in the town due to the environment and crops. There are many more such theories as to why the dancing plague started but none are able to prove their point.
How did the dancing plague end?
Just as the dancing plague of 1518 started out of nowhere, it ended on its own after lasting for two months.