Dancing epidemics were not unknown to Europeans at that time. Three hundred fifty three years earlier in 1021 a group of 18 people began dancing, singing and chanting around a church in Bernburg on Christmas Eve disrupting the service.
In 1237 hundreds of children sang, danced and hopped from Erfurt to Arnstadt, a distance of twenty miles.
But the June 1374 outbreak was one of Europe’s largest. In that outbreak the dancing mania soon spread to Cologne, Flanders, Franconia, Hainaut, Metz, Strasbourg, Tongeren and Utrecht affecting thousands of unsuspecting people. It soon crossed over to Italy and Luxemburg. Scientists and historians believe the dance mania may have been caused by the ergot fungus, a fungus that grows on wheat and causes hallucinations and convulsions when ingested. Social scientists believe the mass dancing was a reaction to the economic depression and poverty of the time.
Another outbreak of dance mania occurred in 1518 when one woman, Frau Troffea, began dancing in the streets of Strasbourg. Soon she was joined by 33 others and within a month 400 people were dancing in the streets day and night. In his 1999 article in Lancet, John Waller describes that outbreak- “...in Strasbourg in 1518 the authorities mandated that the dancers go on dancing day and night, to which end they constructed a special stage in the heart of the city where they could move freely. They even hired professional dancers and musicians to keep them in constant motion. The policy was a disaster. From the dramatic escalation in the epidemic it seems that the strategy helped spread a psychic contagion. In fact, nothing could have been better calculated to turn the dance into a full-scale epidemic than making its victims perform their dances in the most public of spaces.The authorities turned a crisis into a nightmare scenario worthy of a canvas by Hieronymus Bosch.”
Perhaps this scene in 1518 was not unlike how people acted at a Grateful Dead show as that band traveled the world providing music for people to dance to. Click the youtube link below to be taken back to 1967 and perhaps even to 1518.