On July 14 1518, a woman named Frau Troffea began dancing in the streets of Strasbourg, France. There was no music, her face portrayed no expression of joy and she seemed to be totally unconscious. Troffea danced for three straight days without stopping and just when the city elders decided to stop her madness, a neighbor joined in.
By the end of the week more than 30 people were dancing on the city street. And by the end of August, 1518, 400 villagers of Strasbourg were raving around the city. Later on, some of the dancers began dying from heart attacks, exhaustion or strokes.
As an attempt put down the madness, officials hired musicians because they thought the afflicted would only recover if they danced day til night. The “Dancing Plague” mysteriously stopped on September 1518.
People of Strasbourg were convinced that the incident was caused by some kind of religious ecstasy by veneration of Saint Vitus, saint of epilepsy. They said Saint Vitus had unleashed a dancing curse that lead the people to dance to their deaths.
On the other hand, local physicians said that the plague was caused by a disease caused by ‘Hot Blood’ – irresistible urge to dance. Instead of prescribing medications, physicians encouraged the afflicted to dance non-stop until they recover from the disease.
The Truth Behind The Legend
Modern researchers developed many theories as to what caused the Dancing Plague.
According to medical historian John Waller the dancing plague was a result of mass psychogenic illness (MPI). MPI usually involves the sudden expression of intense anxiety in response to false treat. Waller claims that the famine, disease and spiritual despair that the residents of Strasbourg were experiencing during the sixteen century had triggered the mass hysteria.
On the other hand, some biological explanations proposed that the dancing plague is cause by the ingestion of bread contaminated with ergot, a mold containing psychotropic chemicals.