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dance plague: The people who danced themselves to death

In 1518, a ‘dance plague’ saw citizens of French city Strasbourg reportedly dancing uncontrollably for days on end, literally  – with fatal results. It’s a bizarre event that continues to fascinate artists and writers, writes Rosalind Jana.

Like all good plague stories, this one begins with omens. A star streaks across the sky. Fields flood. Extreme cold is followed by extreme heat, which is followed, inevitably, by extreme hunger. On a sweltering summer’s day in July 1518 a woman called Frau Troffea steps into a square in Strasbourg and begins to dance. At first, those around her only watch, curiosity piqued by this unusual public display. They watch a woman who will not, cannot, stop. She dances for nearly a week, felled occasionally by exhaustion but largely undaunted by the body’s other warning signs: pain, hunger, shame. There is no music. Her heart keeps the tempo, working hard to make the motion continue… read more >

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