It was the 14th of July 1518 when Frau Troffea in Strasburg, Alsace left her home and started dancing. She kept doing so for the first day only collapsing from exhaustion briefly. By the third day her feet were drenched in blood and she was carted off to a shrine for St.Vitus in Saverne as the Imlin family’s chronicle notes. Paracelsus recorded how her illness was attributed to this saint due to his representing conditions like the falling sickness or plague.The Dancing Plague is one of the most singular and puzzling medical events of history and even now the reasons for it occurring are wildly debated. The world that Frau Troffea lived in was one in which women could birth monsters, saints and demons could intercede with humanity and magic and religion were central ways of understanding the world.A killer dance must be understood in light of this.The Dance Goes On Soon other people were joining Troffea in the deadly dance. Within four days thirty-four people were infected in total ,th e 17th century chronicle of Oseas Schad discusses that this soon jumped to two hundred and within four weeks of Troffea’s dance this number doubled to four hundred as the Imlin family’s chronicle said.To the citizens it was evident that either the sufferers blood was overheated or spiritual figures like God. the Devil or Saints were involved. The city’s Council of Twenty One argued for the former cause to start with ,prohibiting masses for it at first as in their view it was the Galenistic overheating of blood which was the Cause.And such natural sickness. one chronicler noted. required natural curative means.Galen treatments for it should have involved cooling through cold foods or bleeding yet the actions took by the city’s government did not involve this. Instead more dancing was prescribedThe Council of Twenty-One ordered two town guidhalls to be set aside for dancers and employed guards to watch over the sufferers as they danced. Daniel Specklin noted that people danced with the vict ims by the sound of fife and drum with chronicler Hieronymus Gebwiler noting they dance day and night with those poor people. It didn’t work.And thus people turned to spiritual means. Gebwiler ,a Alsation Humanist argued that the Strasbourgeois had been punished by God for forgetting Christ’s suffering for them and stated that the glee of people watching one woman who danced for six day led to her passing it on through being watched. Even dancing in and of itself was a cause for the curse as the citizens had danced shamefully ,in blasphemous fashion and with the wrong people or in the wrong places. This act of rhythmic movement that seems so neutral to us today was symbolically powerful enough to cause those like Calvin to ban it gradually everywhere in Geneva between 153949.To combat it, documents by Sebastian Brant in the Munincipal Archive of Strasbourg preserve accounts of how on august 3rd dancing was banned with a fine on it of 30 shillings til St Micheals in September 29th.Only stringed instruments could be used in Masses or at Weddings as it was believed that drums and tambourines could make the condition worse and on top of these things Loose Persons like prostitutes and gamblers(Leichtfertigen) were banished and a hundred pound candle was bought for a high mass and three low masses. They then turned to St.Vitus. A child maytr ,saint and holy helper representing a disease he was prayed to for conditions like epilepsy ,and as the crisis deepened, the new dancing disease or plague. Consequently were put in carts and took away to the Saverne St Vitus shrine where they were prayed over by the priests and given pfennigs to offer to the church. Specklin notes how they fell down at images of St. Vitus , were given little crosses and red shoes with the sign of the cross on them and were blessed with holy water. Many seemed to recover. By August and September the plague started by one lone woman’s dance drew to a close , but not without many horrific deaths occurrin g as people moved continuously until their bodies could not take it anymore.A Tradition of Dance. The medieval period was filled with cases of similar dancing themed mass delusions or illnesses. In 1247 the children of the Germanic town Erfurt danced with some dying, 200 people in Maastricht during 1278 did likewise while the summer of 1374 Rhineland provinces to Aachen, Ghent, Metz and Strasbourg danced and had delusions of a devil called Friskes making them do it ,1375 saw it in France and Holand, 1381 an outbreak of dancing occurred in Augsburg, 1428 saw it occur in Zurich and the cloisters of St. Agnes in Schaffhausen where monks danced until they died.The mass of dancing plagues like this before and after the 1518 outbreak was therefore substantialIt’s just the 1518 version captured the public imagination and crystallised people’s reactions to it in an ever larger Renaissance world of disseminated news and knowledge. The surprisingly fact that many of the outbreaks between the 14t h century and 1518 outbreak happened along the Rhine and Mosel rivers begs thinking about. Why was this area so damaged by the dancing phenomena What causes do we now attribute to itExplaining A Mystery Modern explanations for the event are as varied as contemporary ones. It has been argued that the condition is evidently psycho-physical as touch or contact isn’t needed to pass it on. It could not have been a wholly somatic condition but something else. The explanation used for such dancing symptoms in Italy was Tarantism. This was a dancing condition caused supposedly by the bite of a local spider in the Apulian region of Italy as deforestation during the 1400s-1600s had caused them to spread. However, their venom even when combined with the heat of the area is unlikely to have produced proper dancing. Ergot poisoning is another suggestion. Eugene Backman claims that the mold of ergot formed on damp rye stalks which would have been cultivated in the area of Strasbourg. The problem wit h this reasoning is that everyone should have been affected if it was throughout all the rye being eaten. Also it causes delusions, yes, but also gangrene which none of the sufferers are described as having in the records and dancing over fits is not a symptom of ergot.John C. Waller suggests a combination of factors. both physical and psychic. It could not be a heretical cult as some historians claim as the sufferers begged for help and the church never saw them as heretics.Instead the degredation and chaos of Renaissance life in Strasbourg likely had a mental and physical impact on people. Serious famines had occurred in 1492. 1502. 1511 while drought occurred in summer 1516.1517 was deemed the bad year by one resident.With agricultural ,and thus monetary and food uncertainties, many families took out high interest loans. slaughtered their livestock and begged for charity in Strasbourg. A bad pox had arrived in 1495 and syphilis was introduced by mercenary pike men returning from the Ita lian wars in 1517. August of that year saw many attending a holy procession contra pestilentiam’ and begging the Virgin and St. Sebastian for mercy. The English sweating sickness arrived in Strasbourg by 1517 killing people in a mix of copious sweating. delirium and unquenchable thirst. All of this. as Waller shows, represents the fact that during the year 1518 a number of phenomena came together to make this astounding event possible. The people of Strasbourg had been beaten down for decades by circumstances out of their control which affected their health and impacted the way they approached the world mentally.As works on the subjective experience of psychosis across different cultures has shown, like Luhrmann et al’s paper, just location and the resulting specific culture of a place can greatly impact one’s experience of auditory hallucinations and other symptoms. In places like Ghana voices have been found to be more positive and accepted by the person with them than places like the USA where they are more negative. The world of 1518 Strasbourg was one of gods and demons, plagues and monsters, heaven and hellWhether the condition that prompted the dancing in this case or others was physical, mental or both is still unclear, but nevertheless it was something that could happen and did. Four hundred people of the city of Strasbourg took to their feet and moved until dead or bloody. Anything was possible in the Renaissance world they lived in and sometimes you just have to dance. References:H.C. Erik Midelfort, A History of Madness in Sixteenth-century Germany, (California: Stanford University Press, 1999), p.3237Louis Backman, Religious Dances in the Christian Church and in Popular Medicine, trans. E Classen, (London, 1951), p. 190234; 22Die Strasburger Chronik des Elsassischen Humanisten Hieronymus Gebwiler, ed. Karl Stenzel, (Berlin, 1926),p.7475Fragments des Anciennes Chroniques d’Alsace, ed. L Dacheux, Vol 4, (Strasbourg, 1901),p.252. L. Dacheux, Les Chroniques tr asbourgeoises de Jacques Trausch et de Jean Wencker. Les annales de Sebastien Brant. Fragments recueillis par l’abbe L. Dacheux(Strasbourg 1892),p.148Archive Municipal, Strasbourg, R3, fol. 72 rectoJohn Witte and Robert M Kingdon, Sex, Marriage, and Family in John Calvin’s Geneva: Courtship, Engagement and Marriage ,vol 1,(Michigan and Cambridge: William b.Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005),p.454. Les Sources du droit du canton de Geneve, ed. Emile Rivoire and Victor van Berchem. 4 vols(Aarau. 19271935)John Waller. A Time to Dance, a Time to Die: The Extraordinary Story of the Dancing Plague of 1518, (UK:Icon. 2008),p.14. 6. 810. 83. 109, 111113LJ Donaldson , J Cavanagh and J Rankin, The Dancing Plague: a Public Health Conundrum, The Society of Public Health ,111,(1997),pp.201204. p.201203John Waller, In a spin: the mysterious dancing epidemic of 1518, Endeavour, 34. 3(2008), pp.117121J. F. C Hecker and B. G Babington, The Dancing Mania Of The Middle Ages (Honolulu, Hawaii: University Press of th e Pacific, 2004),p.87. 104. 110Cancellieri, Francesco, Letters of Francesco Cancellieri to the ch. Signore Dottore Koreff, Professor of Medicine of the University of Berlin, about Tarantism, the airs of Roma, and of its countryside, and the Papal palaces inside, and outside, Rome: with the description of the Pontifical Castel Gandolfo, and surrounding countryside, (Rome: Presso Francesco Bourlie. 1817)JF Russell Tarantism, Med Hist, 23. 4, (October 1979), pp. 40425.