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FLOTSAM: Dancing Manias

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350534.  Mon Jun 02, 2008 8:54 am Reply with quote

Question: And so, on to a more traditional way of having fun. What was dangerous about dancing in the middle ages?

Forfiet: None

Answer: Dancing manias were common in the 11th to 17th centuries; participants would just dance until they collapsed. In some cases entire towns were brought to a halt.

Dancing manias were fairly common in the middle ages; tens of thousands of people would bring whole towns to a halt by joining into a giant spontaneous dance. The phenomenon was first noted in the 11th century and continued sporadically for around 600 years. It is thought that it was a form of group mental disorder caused by the stresses of the period, although other theories are that they were just forms of pilgrim worship with which locals enjoyed to join-in.

In 1278, citizens in Utrecht began dancing frenziedly on the bridge over the Mosel; they wouldn't stop until the bridge collapsed, drowning all the dancers.
In 1374, people in Aix-la-Chapelle, France, were described as dancing uncontrollably in the streets, foaming at the mouth and screaming of wild visions only stopping when they collapsed from exhaustion.
In 1418, Strasbourg was hit. So many people were dancing, watching or giving assistance to exhausted dancers that the whole town was brought to a halt.

Some dancers would be wearing colourful clothes while others ripped off all their clothes and danced naked. Some participants would roll around in dirt while others would squeal like animals.

One particular form of dancing mania was the tarantella; it was a dance that was believed to cure the bite of the tarantula spider. Exclusive to Italy (especially around the city of Taranto), the music was played on drums and clarinets and was later depicted by composers such as Liszt and Rossini. Modern-day tarantellas are pretty much the stereotypical Italian music, as heard in pizza restaurants.

In the 1920s and 30s, the US was hit by a marathon dancing craze. It kicked off with a 27-hour dance in 1923 and soon record attempts were being mounted all over the US. The rules became codified: 15-minute breaks after every hour of dancing allowed the marathons to continue for days or weeks - eventually months. Organisers desperate for gimmicks would hire deliberately eccentric competitors or would hire celebrities. The longest marathon was in Chicago from 29th August 1930 to 1st April 1931 - seven months, at the end of which the winners took home $2,000. In 1923 a man named Homer Moorehouse dropped dead after dancing for 87 hours non-stop, but it wasn't till 1933 that legislators stepped in, when New York state banned continuous dances of more than 8 hours.

Additional Sources:

Picture Ideas:
There are a few etchings of dancing manias, picture researchers, maybe you can dig one out?

356591.  Mon Jun 09, 2008 5:11 am Reply with quote

Flash, maybe you can add this as a note to the dancing question.

The Sustainable Dance Club is in Rotterdam, and it harnesses the energy created by dancers (in the dancefloor) to power the club (along with solar panels and wind turbines on the roof).

The dance floor also captures the sweat of the dancers to flush the toilets.

It opens shortly.

356749.  Mon Jun 09, 2008 8:48 am Reply with quote

This book mentions St Vitus Dance as one of the names given to dancing manias in the middle ages. I mention this because that name certainly lived on into my childhood, where a restless child could be accused of having St Vitus Dance.


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