In July 1518, hysteria broke out in the city of Strasbourg when a woman known as Frau Troffea suddenly stepped on the streets, and began to twist, twirl and shake. She kept dancing like that for a week and almost thirty-six more people joined her. People were struck with an uncontrollable urge of dancing and they just could not stop. Within a month, the dancing epidemic gripped around 400 victims. Soon these dancers would collapse from exhaustion or die from heart attacks or strokes. It was such a bizarre phenomenon that the reason behind this mass hysteria was never discovered. However, here are some interesting facts about it.
The Dancing Plague
Scientists also refer to it as the ‘forgotten plague’. It is because it was an inexplicable disease or a phenomenon, and nobody could tell the reason behind it. It was a contagious disease that people suffered from, for months. It was an unknown spontaneous outbreak of dance that was unconscious and uncontrollable.
The Symptoms were Extraordinary
While some people could not stop from shaking and twisting, others had severe symptoms. For instance, some people would grunt and hop like animals and jerk aggressively. Some would collapse and foam at their mouths and yet could not stop dancing. Some people also suffered from bizarre hallucinations. The rest of the people would turn red in their faces.
It Gradually Spread to Other Countries
The outbreak of the dancing plague started from Aachen, a city in the holy Roman Empire. From there it gradually spread to different parts of Germany and Italy. It infected almost ten thousand people. The authorities were clueless on how to control the outbreak.
The Disease was Coped with Music
At first, the authorities tried to control the disease by quarantining and isolating the sufferers from other people. But when that failed, they found a better way of coping with the outbreak. One such way was to play music according to the moves of the sufferers. The method was as bizarre as the outbreak itself.
There is no certain Cause of this Outbreak
Even today, no one knows about a certain reason behind this phenomenon. But according to a historian John Waller, a catholic saint St. Vitus had cursed the people of Rome and caused this outbreak. Other medical explanations include an infection spread from ergot poisoning. While some scientists also believe it to be a mass hysteria caused due to a collective mental illness. But, no certain reason has been discovered yet.