It sounds like something out of a movie. But the dancing plague was well documented in historical records in the 16th century.
The incident occurred in July 1518, in Strasbourg, Alsace. Which at the time was part of the Holy Roman Empire. It seems to have begun when a woman known only as Frau Troffea began to dance in a street in Strasbourg.
Her dancing lasted around 4-6 days. But by the time Troffea was done 34 others had begun to dance, and by the end of a month more than 400 had started. Most of the dancers were women. Some of the dancers would die from heart attacks, strokes, or exhaustion. One report indicates that for a period the plague killed around fifteen people per day.
As the dancing plague got worse, concerned nobles asked for advice from local physicians. They ruled out astrological and supernatural causes, however they announced that the plague was a “natural disease”, that it was caused by “hot blood”. Instead of prescribing bleeding, authorities encouraged more dancing. They opened two guildhalls and a grain market. They even constructed a wooden stage, believing that the dancers would recover only if they danced continuously night and day. To increase the effectiveness of the cure, authorities even paid for musicians to keep the afflicted moving.
Historian John Waller stated that a marathon runner could not have lasted the intense workout that these men and women did hundreds of years ago.
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