Mysterious dance plague | Sunday Observer

Mysterious dance plague

29 January, 2023

Although it is normal for a person to dance for a few minutes, isn’t it unusual for someone to dance for days, weeks, and months until they drop dead? Such abnormal incidents are called dancing plagues and they are considered to be an unusual social phenomenon that occurred in several European countries on several occasions between the 14th and 17th centuries.

A dance plague occurs when a large group of people gathers near a certain area, often a main road, to dance continuously for days and weeks. Children, young people and even old people have danced in that way. It is said that some of them fell and were injured, others died due to overwork and hunger. Cases of dancing plague have been reported in countries such as France, Germany and Poland.

Various documents

In Strasbourg which is now France, which was part of the Roman Empire at the time, a large number of people dancing for several weeks is known as the “Dancing Plague of 1518”. In that year, a woman whose name is believed to be Fra Trophia who came to a street in the country started dancing non-stop, and a few days later, a large number of people joined her. Between 50 and 400 people danced there in the early days and later over 1,000 people joined.

Medical notes, church records, legends and various documents released by the Strasbourg City Council from time to time confirm that large crowds danced non-stop for several months in 1518. Although many weeks passed, the group kept dancing, and finally the Magistrate of Strasbourg, the Bishop in charge of the area and several doctors intervened and some of the dancers were hospitalised.

Many people have expressed different opinions about the causes of this incident. Some believe that it was caused by a fungus in a type of grain used to make bread. It is also said that due to some reaction in the body of the people who ingested the fungus, they were moved to dance. Some people believe that the ingestion of this fungus has caused many such incidents in history, especially those that occurred in European countries.

However, several other parties have pointed out that the view that this happened due to food poisoning is unacceptable. They say that no food poisoning can cause a person to dance for days on end, and that all people who get food poisoning cannot have the same illness.

Others suspect that the condition was caused by food poisoning rather than grain or bread, but many dismiss that view due to the location of two areas where the dancing plague was mainly prevalent. They said that due to the location of the two areas separated from each other by a waterway, the probability that food was exchanged between those areas is very low, and the foods consumed in the two areas are different.

It is also speculated that the dancing plague was caused by the stress of the participants. It is said that the people who lived in the areas where the dancing plague occurred had a very difficult life. Some experts who have researched the incident say that people who have led difficult lives may suffer from severe stress. They have mentioned in research reports that as a result, several people may have danced, and it may have motivated others to dance as well. In addition to the 1518 incident, there have been seven reported incidents of people dancing abnormally in this area.

Conflicting opinions

There have been conflicting opinions regarding the death of participants during the dance epidemic. Some sources state that between July and September 1518, between 10 and 15 participants died during the Dancing Plague. Others are said to have fallen ill due to continuous dancing and not having meals. As a large number of people danced in the same place, another group of people got injured by bumping into others. Others fell and were injured due to overexertion and exposure to strong sunlight.

Some argue that no contemporaneous documentation or other evidence has been found to confirm that people died during the dancing plague. They argue that deaths are mentioned in later reports of the dancing plague, and that the documents relating to the period when it occurred do not mention the incidence of deaths. However, if it is established that a group of people danced continuously for weeks, historians say that it is almost certain that people would have died from exhaustion and dehydration during such an event.