Inadequate Education

Because I am adrift without my computer, a friend took pity on me and invited me over to her house to use her computer. Sweet, yes? As I dillied (which is bound to happen in that same inevitable way that computers suck time right out of life), she and I discussed what she might want to do for her upcoming birthday. (Sniff, sniff, I won’t get a European birthday celebration out of this trip…) Given that it is a rare opportunity to celebrate a birthday while living abroad, but also given that she feels limited in much the same way that I do by time, our husbands’ time off, and money, she was looking at places within a reasonable driving distance of our fair town. Someone mentioned something about Strasbourg, but we didn’t know if it was worth a birthday trip. So… I did some (quick) research.

Do you know what I learned? In addition to several fun facts about this medium-sized town just across the German border in France, I learned that my world history class, way back in high school, was totally inadequate. I am just as sure that my history teacher’s world history class wasn’t up to par because it is unfathomable to me that someone would know about this and not share it (thus, this post, also typed on my phone as I ran out of time on her computer)! And this lack of knowledge isn’t a problem with my brain not working! I absolutely would have remembered this… The Dancing Plague of 1518.

In 1518 (obviously), 400 or so of the fine citizens of Strasbourg were struck (“afflicted” per Wikipedia) by “maniacal” dancing! Can you imagine??! They danced for days and days, to the point of dying from heart attacks, strokes, or exhaustion. So, we aren’t talking glibly about the earliest known rave- this thing was a killer! After consulting doctors and men of the cloth, it was decided that these dancers (they even know the lady who “got it” first) were suffering from a physical illness – hot blood (as opposed to alternate theories of astrological or supernatural causes). The prescribed treatment? More dancing! (Although blood-letting may have been an equally typical treatment of the times…) The city even hired musicians to give these poor dancing hot bloods something to dance to! And they had a stage built (among a few other venues) so that the dancers would have an appropriate place to dance!

Upon doing further research, I learned that there were several “outbreaks” of this dancing mania (there are apparently 3 distinct classifications: outbreak, mania, and plague, depending in the “severity” of the dancing) but the one in 1518 in Strasbourg is the most notable (thus “plague”). The first recorded incidence of this dance “mania” was in Aachen in the 1300s, although there had been prior outbreaks of what we will call (for this blog’s purposes) “dance fever” all the way back in the 700s. Incredibly, there have been no such “fevers,” “outbreaks,” or “plagues” since the 17th century. Occasionally, these outbreaks were limited to certain groups, such as incidences in which only children were afflicted. Perhaps this is the “torn from the headlines” fairy tale? Law and Order some 300+ years ago?

Historical review has prompted some to conclude that it was an outbreak of a psychological disturbance, although there really is no known consensus. Others have brought up theories to include religious cults, people dancing to relieve stress gone awry, etc. I find it interesting to note that recorded incidences were limited to Europe (although it apparently happened in a variety of countries).

Again… How did I not know about this before??


5 thoughts on “Inadequate Education

  1. I studied in Strasbourg and loved it. If you go, be sure to eat some tarte flambee. It’s a regional specialty. You could also do the Route du Vin outside the city. The smaller towns outside the city are charming.

  2. Yes, I learned about this, too, while getting ready to visit Strasbourg. Weird story, huh? Fascinating. Thanks for sharing and reminding of this strange part of European history.

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