OCT 22, 2016 6:35 AM PDT

The Curious Case of the Dancing Plague of 1518

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

In July of 1518, a sizable group of people in Strasbourg, France (as many as 400) appeared to have "contracted" a sudden and inexplicable urge to dance. The affected were found in the streets to be shaking, twirling, twisting, and gyrating seemingly out of control to the absence of any music or rhythm.

While the dancing party sounds whimsical, it soon turned fatal as people began to die from heart attacks and exhaustion over the span of one whole month. Historians provide ample documentation of this incident, calling it the Dancing Plague of 1518. Furthermore, they provide similar incidences of dancing hysteria in other parts of Europe, such as Switzerland, Germany and Holland.

The cause of this mysterious phenomenon has yet to be agreed by everyone. But hypotheses range from stress-induced psychosis (famine was rampant at this time) to infection of toxic mold. Whatever the cause, it appeared to disappear as suddenly as it came, and historians have been baffled since. Watch the video to learn more!
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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