The Weird Phenomenon of St. Vitus' Dance

Posted by A69143a5 tiny Jen Messier on nov 18, 2011 under Blog Post

I was sitting in on Charlotte's Medieval History class when she mentioned the super weird phenomenon of St. Vitus' Dance, also know as Dancing Mania.

It's just what you'd think--outbreaks of uncontrolled dancing that swept through Europe during the late middle ages and even into the 1600's. Participants often did not live where they danced, or traveled from place to place, and no one seemed to be immune. The outbreaks mostly occurred during bad times, and it's perhaps funny in retrospect to note that musicians would often play along with the dancers, not to keep them dancing, but to help cure them of the mania. 

And though I could write a million blog posts about this (it's so interesting!), let's just talk about why it happened for the moment. According to our friends at Wikipedia, "it remains unclear whether it was a real illness or a social phenomenon," but don't worry, there are lots of theories

And what are they?

* Ergot poisoning, also known as St. Anthony's Fire (because everything's about a saint!). Ergot are nasty fungi that grow on your rye, then when you make bread out of said rye, you get poisoned. No fun. And while this can cause hallucinations and other nasty things, some folks don't buy that it would cause these coordinated dancing spells. 

* Everyone was super stressed out. Life wasn't exactly easy for these guys, and besides being extremely poor and working extremely hard all the time, there was the plague and all to contend with, so one theory is that this was an expression of 'shared stress' on the part of entire communities. 

* It was fake. This is my favorite theory. It's argued that the dancers were religious cultists acting sick in order to get around rules that didn't let you dance everywhere all the time. I love how savvy and subversive it makes them seem!

Wikipedia teaches all:

So does this site:


Tagged with history

Related Posts