Saturday, January 11, 2014

Before "Party Rock": The Dance Epidemic of 1518 (Video)



"Everyday I'm shuffling"? Could be, if you catch the right bug.

You've probably seen LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem" music video, right? The premise of the video's story is a dancing epidemic has broken out in the world because people can't stop shuffling (dancing) to the song. The video begins with a black background and these words in red:
"On March 1, LMFAO's Redfoo and Sky Blu slipped into comas after excessive party rocking. The next morning their single "Party Rock Anthem" was released to the world. 28 Days Later"
I cracked up the first time I saw the music video. Referencing the horror of the 28 Days Later movie for a crazy concept like a dance epidemic seemed both clever and ridiculous to me. Also, Redfoo and Sky Blu strike me as funny in general.

As it turns out, a dance epidemic is not that far-fetched. According to today's Flashback Friday blog post at Discover Magazine's Seriously Science blog, in 1518 a dancing epidemic seized the the city of Strausbourg:
"'Some time in mid-July 1518 a lone woman stepped into one of its narrow streets and began a dancing vigil that was to last four or even 6 days in succession. Within a week another 34 had joined the dance. And by the end of August, one chronicler asserts, 400 people had experienced the madness, dancing wildly, uncontrollably around the city.” And this wasn’t a sedate affair; the dancers’ feet often ended up bruised and bloody. '" (Read more here.)
Doctors of the time attributed the dancing epidemic to everything from "hot blood" to an angry saint, and some people died.

This story is also chronicled in the history book A Time to Dance, a Time to Die: The Extraordinary Story of the Dancing Plague of 1518:
The true story of a wild dancing epidemic that brought death and fear to a 16th-century city, and the terrifying supernatural beliefs from which it arose. In July 1518 a terrifying and mysterious plague struck the medieval city of Strasbourg. Hundreds of men and women danced wildly, day after day, in the punishing summer heat. They did not want to dance, but could not stop. Throughout August and early September more and more were seized by the same terrible compulsion. By the time the epidemic subsided, heat and exhaustion had claimed an untold number of lives, leaving thousands bewildered and bereaved, and an enduring enigma for future generations. Drawing on fresh evidence, John Waller's account of the bizarre events of 1518 explains why Strasbourg's dancing plague took place. In doing so it leads us into a largely vanished world, evoking the sights, sounds, aromas, diseases and hardships, the fervent supernaturalism, and the desperate hedonism of the late medieval world. At the same time, the extraordinary story this book tells offers rich insights into how people behave when driven beyond the limits of endurance. Above all, this is an exploration into the strangest capabilities of the human mind and the extremes to which fear and irrationality can lead us.
I wonder did the producers of the "Party Rock Anthem" video know about this odd bit of history when planning the video. Hmm. I doubt they did.

Note: The "balter definition" picture comes from Divine Secrets of a Domestic Goddess's Facebook page.

H/T: Steven Hart

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