Etiology of the Dancing Plague
InterCulture: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Volume 2, Issue 3, Fall (2005)
The phenomenon of dancing mania (also Dancing Plague or choreomania) has manifested itself in various forms in cultures throughout the world since its first recorded emergence at the beginning of the Middle Ages. The Dancing Plague has often piqued the curiosity of scientists and scholars who believe that some variation of this phenomenon has played a role in many events of mythological, historical, and literary significance, including the Legend of the Pied Piper, the Salem Witch Trials, Tarantism in Italy, and the French Revolution. Scientists have posed several hypotheses for the direct cause of dancing mania, such as demonic possession, epilepsy, a spider bite, ergot poisoning, various cultural dimensions, and murine typhus epidemics [Donaldson, 1997 and Woolf, 2000]. Conversely, many scholars attribute the phenomenon to no single cause; rather, they believe that the choreas observed during the Middle Ages stemmed from the psychological impact of a barrage of natural calamities – plagues, war, and famine that people faced during this time. Accordingly, the hardships endured by these people drove them to a frenzied state of mind and body of epidemic proportions.