June 24

1374 — Dancing Mania in Aachen, Germany


After the apocalypse, there was music.

The musicians came to meet afflicted survivors, hoping to calm them.

In 14th century Germany, the mania of St. John’s Dance — otherwise known as St. Vitus’ Dance or The Dancing Plague — began as a response to the poverty and daily stress of the people of Aachen.  The mania spread to other European cities, and more people danced in the streets, sometimes tearing off their clothes, or screaming and laughing at mysterious hallucinations.  The affected people kept dancing, until they injured themselves, or fell to the ground in exhaustion.

The apocalypse brought a fresh recurrence of this Plague.  What could be more stressful than the end of the world?  Money was useless paper, and systems of electronic banking had collapsed, making poverty a universal condition.

Spontaneously, people started to dance.  Their numbers grew, and the marathon continued.  Music, some decided, would give the fitful twitchings more focus, perhaps soothe the afflicted dancers and help them recover their senses.

Now, among the remains of your city, healthier minds watch as violins and guitars and clarinets try to charm the dancers with melodic runs and strums.  A steady drum beat hopes to coax their movements into a predictable pattern.

You’re one of the spectators.  Minutes earlier, the woman next to you in a pink and white blouse commented on how crazy the dancers seemed.  She pointed out one elderly man in the crowd who had fallen over, yet still kicked his legs in the air — not to ward off the crowd from trampling him, but to continue some inverted version of his frantic dance.

You glance to your right, and the woman had disappeared.  A pink and white floral print flashed briefly from inside the crowd of dancers.

You begin to tap your feet unconsciously to the music.  A few minutes later, you tear off your shirt and bound toward the crowd.

You dance and dance, and you don’t stop.