The Dancing Plague: The Strange True Story of an Extraordinary Illness

John Waller, Author . Sourcebooks $24.99 (278p) ISBN 978-1-40221-943-6

In Strasbourg in 1518, a dance craze began that, far from being a mere fashion, was a form of hysteria in which people literally danced themselves to death. The plague began on July 14, 1518, when Frau Troffea stepped into the streets of Strasbourg and danced madly for hours despite extreme exhaustion and swollen, bleeding feet. In the end, over 100 people died of what came to be known as St. Vitus's dance. What caused this “dancing plague”? In his sometimes compelling and often superficial tale, Michigan State medical historian Waller draws on fresh historical evidence to recreate a society stricken by famine, in which illness was seen as a punishment from God, and laypeople resented the corruption of priests and nobles. These factors resulted in hysteria that contributed to the dance plague, and Waller concludes that the dancers entered a deep trance that enabled them to dance through their exhaustion. But compared with other historical examinations of mass hysteria, Waller's analysis lacks breadth and depth—a shame, given the fascinating material he has to work with. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 06/15/2009
Release date: 09/01/2009
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 259 pages - 978-1-4022-4737-8
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