The Dancing Plague of Europe

A Case of Mass Hysteria

Tashima Agrawal
New Writers Welcome
3 min readJul 2, 2023


Photo by Ardian Lumi on Unsplash

What if everyone danced together? Well, that sounds incredibly fun, like a merry party or an occasion, but it actually also depends on the context. For instance, what if everyone danced together but this dancing carried on for indefinite periods of time with no control whatsoever over the movements and was so fatal that it actually even led to deaths?

Death by dancing?

Sounds shocking, but this was a reality for a brief period of time in France, when a dancing epidemic with unclear causes spread in Strasbourg, causing the aforementioned events, aptly named “The Dancing Plague of 1518.”

It all started when on a day in July 1518, a woman named Mrs. Frau Trauffea suddenly started dancing on the streets and continued to dance without a stop and eventually, collapsed from exhaustion. The collapse did not seem to have any effect on her as she resumed her dancing after resting.

This carried on for days and before anyone could figure out what was going on, she was joined by many other people. The authorities were concerned with the strange yet alarming situation and the solution proposed was: more dancing. Yes, they supported the concept of fighting fire by fire and so, special dancing halls were arranged for these people to dance as much as they wanted to.

However, the solution backfired and actually worsened the problem as more and more people joined the dancers and many even lost their lives. There is no record of the actual number of people afflicted but most sources mention the number to be between 50 and 400. However, the epidemic subsided by the month of September.

There have not been any clear causes and different theorists have tried to pinpoint various causes for this epidemic. The most supported theory was the one given by John Waller which suggests that the uncontrollable jerky movements were aroused as a result of hysteria and madness which was prevalent in those days as a result of a number of stressors like famines, and the spread of diseases. Other given causes were demonic possession, overheated blood, and getting affected by ergot disease.

“The Dancing Plague of 1518" is one among the many outbreaks that occurred frequently in Europe during the period from the 14th to 17th centuries and the incidents have been collectively labelled “dancing mania”.

The very first outbreak dates as back as 1374, however, the most popular and extensive among them is the “dancing plague of 1518.” The outbreaks have also been dubbed the “St. Vitus’s Dance” as the dancers were believed to be affected by a curse of St. Vitus, the patron saint of dancers.

Some of the other strange epidemics with no definite causes include the ‘Laughing Epidemic of Tanganyika’ and ‘Sleeping Sickness of Kazakhstan’ which were again, examples of emotional outbursts arising out of extreme stress rather than a viral infection.

Thus, through the examples of these epidemics, it can be understood that not just a virus like Corona, but even psychological causes can lead to an epidemic with the potential to become a pandemic. Even during COVID, there was collective anxiety induced in everyone as a result of the prevalent uncertainty and prolonged lockdown.

This further highlights the importance of mental health and emotional well-being in today’s times. These epidemics occurred in times when mental health was not as widely discussed as today.

However, today, with more studies on Psychology and a better understanding of mental health, we must certainly look after our own as well as others’ emotional well-being.




Tashima Agrawal
New Writers Welcome

Hi, I am Tashima Agrawal, a student. I love reading and writing on various topics and want to learn and share, inspire and get inspired......