History: What made hundreds of people almost dance themselves to death in 1518?

The town got a little too footloose

In the summer of 1518, a woman started to dance in the streets of Strasbourg, France, for no apparent reason.

It wasn’t long before others joined her, and after a month, around 400 people had been overcome by the urge to gyrate with all the fervour of a bachelorette party on a sticky club dance floor.

But unless someone was playing a particularly stirring rendition of Gold Digger on the lute, the cause of this infamous dancing plague was a little more mysterious.

A pictorial representation of the dance epidemic of Strasbourg

Evidence from the time — doctors’ notes, sermons and even city council records — stated that although these people were clearly dancing, their movements appeared involuntary.