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In This Week’s Show, episode 55, we get hysterically involved in French DDR! Or something like that. I'm your host this week, Aaron, and w This week I learned that when smart kids share random facts adults tell them how smart they are. But when adults share random facts people tell them they are weird and annoying… Jenn’s Actual Lesson Did you know that in his guise as Nataraja, Shiva is both creating and destroying the world, all at once, crushing a demon underneath his feet as he does so... But before we get to all that, let’s have a beer! Today I have yet another installment of Weird...History...ree...ree...ree. For a change, we are not in Russia, Germany, or the US and there is nary a Nazi to be found. Now, if you are anything like me, you may have spent some time considering some of the more...unusual ways to die. And sometimes, by unusual, I mean both humiliating, weird, and awful. So today I’d like to discuss one of these ways in a story I have titled:
Dirty Dancing 2: The First French New Wave
“The civic and religious leaders theorized that more dancing was the solution, and so they arranged for guildhalls for the dancers to gather in, musicians to accompany the dancing, and professional dancers to help the afflicted to continue dancing.“They were SO close, as obviously the only solution would have been more cowbell. Ok, so 1518 Strasbourg had one hell of a street dance scene going on, but there were soon some serious drawbacks. It wasn’t long before this kind of days-long cardio started causing the afflicted people to, well, drop dead. Everything from dehydration to strokes to heart attacks to dance fever was, at the height of the outbreak, causing up to 15 people a day to keel over dead in the streets. (Side note: if you’re looking for a more modern sorta-equivalent, check out the 1969 film ‘They Shoot Horses Don’t They. Directed by Sidney Pollack and starring an absolutely delicious Jane Fonda, this is only included because of the dancing until the dying part. In this case, it portrays the Depression marathon ‘dance-offs’ which were held for publicity for the venue and a possible payout for the winners. The movie is absolutely goddamn great, but bear in mind, it’s not part of the Depression Era in the time period along. It’s grim, is what I’m saying.) Back to the deadly rhythm nation, already in progress: So yes, the gyrating had reached literal hysterical proportions by late August to early September. Per Historian and author Jon Waller (his book?)
"A Time to Dance, A Time to Die: The Extraordinary Story of the Dancing Plague of 1518," so he knows his death dancing), "That the event took place is undisputed. These people were not just trembling, shaking or convulsing; although they were entranced, their arms and legs were moving as if they were purposefully dancing."Now while the video of Thriller was, dare I say THRILLING when it came out, for 16th-century peasants hollowed-eyed, nearly dead street dancers would be at the very least alarming, so surely there was much relief when the mania began to fade after about three months. Because this is Waiting 4 Wrath and there are only so many sources I can find in a few days and no budget, I was unable to find a number or even an estimate of how many people actually died from this particular plague. Even more confounding, no one seems to have pinpointed exactly WHY this phenomenon actually took place. Of course, ‘experts’ of the time we're waiting on the sidelines to insert their opinions. To the absolute surprise of no one, there was the talk of demon possession, as well as something called “hot blood”, which I believe was started by the Reptilians. In fact, it only took 8 years for long-time referenced fake doctor and proponent of pigeon shoes Paracelsus to make an appearance in Strasbourg, wielding his knowledge of honestly nothing. Of course, he had his own very special reason as to why the plague started. And why was that? Well, it was because Frau Troffea’s husband hated the fact she liked to dance! That’s right, she danced herself into a bloodied-foot delirium simply to annoy her husband. In fact, per Paracelsus, the entire event was born of sexual frustration and wild imaginations, which for Paracelsus is actually not a bad suggestion. The fact he didn’t blame it on sheep farts or the lack of aspirating pond water really shows his growth as a physician. He did, however, label those afflicted as ‘whores and scoundrels’, recommended their being locked in a dark room (apparently the ‘more unpleasant the better’) and fed only bread and water, so he still pretty much sucks. So in the simplest terms, it was the general consensus at that time that women and their hysterically wandering wombs were the cause of, and mainly affected by, this event for the same reasons that show up throughout the stories of history: their having any form of sexuality and too much or not enough religious piety. So by this token, I’m really hoping a wild dance frenzy will break out for the heavily hair-sprayed harpies at the next Republican National Convention. My money is on Mrs. Mike Pence leading the conga line. Anyway, moving into current times and the more scientifically plausible reasons. An often reference culprit is ergot. What exactly is ergot? It’s a fungus that grows on rye and related grains and can infect people from both the grain and the products made from it. It also has a really fascinating historical story. Ergotism refers to the severe reaction that comes from ingesting this fungus and, per webmd.com,
“During the Middle Ages, ergotism, a severe reaction to ergot-contaminated food (such as rye bread), was common and was known as St. Anthony's fire. This illness was often cured by visiting the shrine of St. Anthony, which happened to be in an ergot-free region of France. Additionally, some historians believe that ergot played a role in the Salem witch hunt of 1692. They think that some women in Salem developed peculiar behaviors and accused other women of being witches as a result of eating ergot-contaminated food.”Back to our author/historian, per John Waller, the fact that living in this particularly stressful and superstitious point of history opens up many options as to why a mass dance seemed like a good way to lose your goddamn mind. Per history.com according to Waller:
“the explanation most likely concerns St. Vitus, a Catholic saint who pious 16th century Europeans believed had the power to curse people with a dancing plague. When combined with the horrors of disease and famine, both of which were tearing through Strasbourg in 1518, the St. Vitus superstition may have triggered a stress-induced hysteria that took hold of much of the city.”(Additionally, the afflictions of St. Vitus’ dance is usually considered symptomatic of Sydenham’s chorea, which is, per Wikipedia: a disorder characterized by rapid, uncoordinated jerking movements primarily affecting the face, hands, and feet. So we are basically back where we started.) He also dismisses the suggestion of ergot and gives interesting reasoning for it. The time period was rife with any number of reasons to be stressed. According to Waller,
“Having suffered severely from famine, and in many cases wiped out and reduced to begging, the region was in an ongoing crisis. Many had died of starvation. The area was riddled with diseases, including smallpox and syphilis … It was a superstitious time. From the sound of it, these people didn’t have much left in their lives but superstition.”But how would this negate ergot as a possible factor? Simply put, the affected just physically wouldn’t be able to maintain this level of exertion if ergot was the cause. Poisoning from ergot results in symptoms ranging from nausea, vomiting, muscle pain and weakness, numbness, itching, and rapid or slow heartbeat. More severe poisoning can progress to gangrene, vision problems, confusion, spasms, convulsions, unconsciousness, and death. With such an intense list of side effects, a severe case of ergot poisoning would tend to kill a physically compromised peasant rather than allowing them days of intensive exercise. This is a pretty good point. Waller believes a mixture of intense life stressors, societal pressures, rampant diseases that could affect the mind (such as syphilis) all wrapped up in a mindset of extreme superstitions. While it may not answer every question raised, I think it goes further than blaming Frau Troffea’s hot blood or witchy women trying to overthrow society.
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