Greetings from Apocalypse Bunker 27! That’s right, we here at Werewolf Radar have been quarantined beneath a mile and a half of virus-retardant concrete since this coronavirus thing was just a Twitter punchline. Technically, we were already quarantining down here due to a potential living snow-man situation late last December so it was as easy as changing the label on our “apocalypse chore chart,” but the point remains, we called it!
So how is it going up there? Are people still heeding science? Social distancing? Hand washing? Binge-watching as much Buffy as doctors say they should? Good good. You know, we weren’t always so lucky as to have scientists to tell us what the viruses want and how to fight them. Way back when all of medicine amounted to licking toads and wearing amulets, people understandably had less reason to trust doctors. It also didn’t help that sometimes the “disease” didn’t act like a disease at all. Sometimes it seemed more like a magic spell. A magic spell cast by the funkiest of wizards.
The dancing plague of 1518 began one afternoon when a woman began dancing in the streets of Strasbourg, a city in the Alsace region of France. Her name was Frau Troffea and apparently her grooves were quite infectious, literally. Within a week, about 34 people had been struck with this actual dance fever. Just dancing it up in the streets. Sounds kinda cool, right? Like an episode of Euphoria or Cops! It gets worse.
Within a month there were 400 of them. Dancing without rest, or food or water. None of them knew why they grooved, they simply felt compelled. Sometimes a dancer was accompanied by a family member trying to force them to eat or drink, but half the time they just ended up dancing along. It was almost as if the dance was … contagious. People died. Heart attack, stroke, or pure exhaustion took them. This happened. There are deaths on the books. At one point as many as 15 a day. And still, they danced.
Authorities were gobsmacked. They’d never seen anything like it. Bones were cast, oracles consulted and eventually, as a last result, physicians were called in. The doctors ruled out “magical” and “astrological” causes (which they barely even test for any more) and thus classified the dancing plague as a “natural” disease. They claimed it was caused by “hot blood,” which, some of you know, isn’t a thing.
However, instead of slathering the patients in leeches, they prescribed more dancing! In the weirdest public health move ever, the city of Strasbourg really leaned into this thing. Several local guildhalls were declared designated dancing areas (dance centrals if you will), a great wooden stage was build and they even hired a band. A freaking band! Playing spooky 15th century tuba music to about 400 people dancing against their will on a gray Alsace morning. Sends a chill up your spine.
The hope was that, whatever this was, the people would just kind of “dance it out.” But, as Gloria Estefan once said, “the rhythm is gonna get ya.” Cases exploded after the so-called “dancing treatment.” It was as if the bass dropped and shit got funkier than ever. A mad, rhythmic psychic virus seemed to spread amongst the people of Strasbourg. They dance day and night for almost a month straight and then all of a sudden, they stopped.
To this day nobody is really certain what caused the dancing plague but they have some theories. Several other cases of what has come to be known as “dancing mania” seem to indicate behavior consistent with ergot poisoning. Ergot is a mold that grows on wheat which produces a natural chemical called ergotamine which behaves almost exactly like LSD. Maybe these people got ahold of some bad bread and went on a particularly rhythmic trip? But then why did it spread? And why did it stop? Some have hypothesized that the dancing was simply the result of stress-induced psychosis. The life of a 15th century peasant isn’t easy, perhaps these people suffered some sort of collective mental breakdown? Or maybe it’s exactly what it looks like? A psychic contagion. A memetic virus spread simply by knowing about it. I suppose, if that’s the case we are pretty lucky it only came to dance.
So listen to your scientists, folks. Wash your hands, and your faces. Shave yourself clean and submerge yourself in MonstroCo brand breathable body sanitizer. Sleep for a thousand years in a cocoon of Netflix and ramen noodles and emerge, blinking into a world scrubbed clean by your laziness. And for god’s sake, turn down that music! Wait … Everybody hears that, right?