Teaching Students about The Mysterious Dancing Plague of France


The fascinating story of the dancing plague in France is a significant chapter in history, highlighting an unexplained phenomenon that led to many people dancing until their very last breath. As educators, we have a responsibility to teach our students about the remarkable events that transpired during this period, as well as the impact it made on society. This article aims to shed light on this strange occurrence and provide educators with valuable information for teaching their students about the people who danced until they died.


The dancing plague, also referred to as “St. Vitus’ Dance” or “The Dance Mania,” took place mainly in the regions of modern-day northeastern France and western Germany. Originating around the 14th century and continuing into the 17th century, this bizarre hysteria had several outbreaks.

The most significant episode occurred in Strasbourg, modern-day Alsace (then part of the Holy Roman Empire), in 1518. In July of that year, a woman named Frau Troffea began to dance without stopping. Within a week, more than thirty people had joined her in this inexplicable dance marathon; a month later, there were approximately 400 dancers. Many of them danced until they eventually collapsed or died from exhaustion, heart attacks, or strokes.

Teaching Approaches

1. Encourage Critical Thinking:

Encourage your students to think critically about why such an event occurred by providing them with different theories behind its cause. Was it due to stress and tension during harsh social and economic times? Were victims affected by some contagious disease or an inherent psychological condition? Discuss these theories and urge students to form their opinions based on facts and logic.

2. Cross-Curricular Connections:

Tie this event to other aspects of history, including political context, social changes, and economic factors. By connecting the dancing plague to these broader themes, students can better understand the significance of this event within its historical scope.

3. Primary and Secondary Sources:

Provide your students with primary sources such as chroniclers’ accounts, letters, and government records from the era. This will allow them to critically evaluate these sources and gain a robust understanding of the period. Analyzing secondary sources such as journal articles and books written by historians will also provide them with various perspectives on the topic.

4. Engaging Visual Materials: 

Share artistic representations of the event, including paintings or illustrations. These visuals can help solidify students’ understanding of the phenomenon and incite productive discussions.

5. Creative Assignments:

Have your students write their accounts of the dancing plague from different perspectives – a dancer, a witness, or a doctor attempting to find a cure for this mysterious affliction. This creative approach allows students to delve deeper into the topic while developing empathy for those who experienced it.


Teaching students about the enigmatic dancing plague in France provides an opportunity to explore a peculiar yet significant chapter of European history. Approaching this subject with engaging methods such as critical thinking exercises, cross-disciplinary connections, source analysis, visual materials, and creative assignments will not only pique their curiosity but also enrich their knowledge about the complexities of human behavior and society’s influence on individuals.

Choose your Reaction!