On a Dance Craze

You know how these things go viral, yeah? Someone starts something, other people see it and like it, and they start imitating it, copying it, and making it their own. The craze then spreads like wildfire. We see it all the time. We label such things memes or trends. This is the story about one such craze that happened back in the summer of ’18, and it’s about a dance.

Best we can tell, this particular dance phenomenon started in Strasbourg, France that summer. A young woman began dancing in the street and soon gathered a crowd to watch her perform. Sounds sort of like the start of a flash mob, doesn’t it? But this particular woman was dancing solo, at least at first. And, the weird thing was, she simply kept dancing. And dancing. And dancing. The crowd of observers, first appreciative and admiring, soon turned to boredom as the woman’s performance seemed to have no end. For hours she danced in the streets of her city.

People began to wonder what was up with the woman. Why was she dancing for such a long period? And, the even weirder thing was, slowly, other dancers began joining her. Soon, over the period of some days, reports say that upwards of a few hundred of her fellow Strasbourgians (Strasbourgoise? Strasburgers?) began dancing, too. What we know for sure is that the original dancing woman eventually fell into exhaustion, but her place in the dancing performance was taken by several others.

The local authorities became worried and wanted to get involved somehow as more and more people joined the seemingly eternal dancing. Should they order people to stop dancing? Should arrests be made if people didn’t quit dancing? The local leadership efforts to do something about the event were ultimately stymied because, well, dancing in public isn’t really a crime after all. Doctors were called and stood by to assist the worn-out dancers as they began to fall out from sheer tiredness. Even local ministers begged the dancers to quit dancing, but their pleas were ignored by the whirling durvishes.

From July to September, these dancing people danced their lives away. And you know how these things go; rumor or gossip or “fake news” reports odd things that sound almost conspiratorial. These people were on drugs or drink, some said. They suffered from a sickness, some said (this particular theory gained traction even more when the later plague came through). The dancers had been stricken with mass hysteria, some said. Some of the dancers had even danced until they died, some said.

What we know for sure is that we simply don’t know for sure why the first woman began dancing in the first place and why others joined her in such numbers. Again, we know that by September of that year, the dancing ceased and left as quickly as it came. And something else came and took the place of the dance craze in the public’s imagination.

Of course, much of this is conjecture. After all, it’s hard to get accurate information on something that happened in 1518.


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