There is no doubt that the dancing plague occurred. It is undisputed despite the extraordinary and unbelievable story. And people did die while dancing continuously without any reason in medieval France. It has been 500 years since it happened but this incident remains one of the most intriguing mysteries to date.
People’s first reaction to such stories where something occur so bizarre they that defy our logic is to deny the events terming them as nothing more than myths. But in this case, the evidences are undisputed.
There are actual historical documents like physician notes, cathedral sermons, local and regional chronicles and notes issued by the city council that documented the incident.
It all started in the month of July 1518 when a woman named Frau Troffea started dancing suddenly in the middle of a street of Strasbourg, Alsace, France and kept dancing for six days continuously without any break which ended with her death due to possible exhaustion.
But her dancing triggered a plague that first affected one of her neighbours, and then another and by the end of the week at least 34 people were affected. Within a month the plague spread far and wide and 400 people took to the streets of France to dance.
They kept dancing. The phenomenon was so huge that the authorities had to call physicians to look into the matter.
Though in the medieval age, the physicians did not attribut the plague to some demonic hocus pocus; they actually ruled out anything paranormal and termed it a disease that was caused due to excessive blood flow. But instead of bleeding, which was a common practice to cure diseases during that time, they recommended that the dancers should be allowed to keep dancing and that would cure the ailment.
So the authorities called in musicians and even raised wooden platforms so that people could dance. And they kept on dancing.
Of course, human bodies are not meant to dance continuously and, therefore, many of the dancers collapsed and died of stroke, heart failures or exhaustion.
The incident has remained a much talked-about mysteries. There is still no proper explanation for the phenomenon.
1. Food-poisoning –
The first theory that tried to explain the event was that the people who were affected by the strange plague were actually suffering a sort of food poisoning caused by ergot fungus, the organic version of LSD. It is assumed that the crops were infested with the fungus at that time. But the problem with that theory is that ergot fungus poisoning is so poisonous that it would rather kill the persons than make them dance for so long.
2. Stress-induced psychosis –
Historian and author of the book “A Time to Dance, A Time to Die: The Extraordinary Story of the Dancing Plague of 1518”, John Waller, cited that it was simply a hysteria that could have been the result of the crisis that the region was going through. He wrote that the region had been riddled with diseases and starvation was killing people. Many were reduced to begging and all these led to intolerable stress among the people which finally resulted in a mass hysteria.