Dancing Their Lives Away: The Dancing Plague of 1518

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On this, the last day of 2018, it is only fit and right to recall the dancing plague of 1518.  “In July 1518, residents of the city of Strasbourg (then part of the Holy Roman Empire) were struck by a sudden and seemingly uncontrollable urge to dance. The hysteria kicked off when a woman known as Frau Troffea stepped into the street and began to silently twist, twirl and shake. She kept up her solo dance-a-thon for nearly a week, and before long, some three-dozen other Strasbourgeois had joined in (Andrews, 2015). (Also, see video The Town That Nearly Danced Itself To Death.)

The dancing craze lasted over three months, during which around 400 people had danced for days without rest and some had died from exhaustion, heart attack, or stroke. Theories about what caused this medieval flash mob range from food poisoning to stress-caused psychosis.

Instead of dancing the night away, these folks were dancing their lives away.

Five hundred years later, on the cusp of a new year, I wonder about this dancing craze.  I married a professional dancer and dance instructor and choreographer and dance studio owner (yes, this is just one person). My brother was a lighting professor in a dance department, and a part of creating hundreds, no doubt thousands and perhaps actually tens of thousands, of dance performances.  My daughter danced professionally. Dancing is a big part of our family and even though what I know about dance can fit on the head of a pin, I love to dance myself and I have a deep appreciation for the art form and those who create dance.

But that is not my point today.

Today, I wonder if people will soon be taking to the streets this time overcome with frustration about our world.  Better to take out that stress by dancing than by the emotion which pits people against people I say.  Maybe it is time to add music to our neighborhood watches, and have weekly dance-outs in our cul de sacs and along our parkways.  Perhaps each street should have a designed DJ of the week, and folks could do a little two-step while walking their dogs each evening.

Let’s take a proactive approach to these us-versus-them divisions going on all around us.  Let’s ballet away the fray. Let’s waltz away our faults. Let’s jitterbug ‘til people hug. Let’s hip hop and talk shop.

C’mon now.  No need to break it down. Let’s partner up, line up, and get down.  No need to dance until we drop, just until the anger stops.

Then maybe we’ll have an alchemic pandemic of 2019, when the lead of heavy hearts turns to the golden rule.

Then, truly, we’ll be dancing not our lives away, but dancing all along the way.


Andrews, Evan, (2015)What was the dancing plague of 1518? History. https://www.history.com/news/what-was-the-dancing-plague-of-1518

Waller, John, (July, 2018). Keep on moving: the bizarre dance epidemic of summer 1518. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2018/jul/05/bizarre-dance-epidemic-of-summer-1518-strasbourg

The town that nearly danced itself to death. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20161028-the-town-the-nearly-danced-itself-to-death

Dancing plague of 1518. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dancing_plague_of_1518

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