Screen Shot 2020-10-07 at 10.38.37.png

NOTES FROM A TERRIBLE DANCER /

Make Hoards of People Dance For No Good Reason Again, But Hopefully Not to Death This Time

BY DANIELLE FRANCISCO

502 years ago in the city of Strasbourg, dozens of people danced themselves to death.

Nobody knows why.

502 years ago in the city of Strasbourg, dozens of people danced themselves to death. Nobody knows why.

 

Some Historians attribute what happened to Mass Hysteria, a contagious stress-induced psychosis. In plain English, researchers guess that hoards of people were so collectively stressed out they just danced. Nonstop.

 

Some choose to believe that it was the result of an entire village accidentally ingesting LSD from moldy bread. While I’d like to keep note of this version for whenever I find myself in situations of needing to trick people into thinking that my brain is full of Fun and Interesting Things, this theory has been debunked and deemed by experts to be very unlikely to be the truth.

Personally, I like using the Dancing Plague of 1518 to further a lifelong personal agenda: getting more people to dance terribly.

I haven’t got a smidge of the credibility needed to devise a theory worth listening to as to how and why this outbreak happened, so instead I’d like to offer a wild guess on why all these people turned to dance, of all things.

 

It might have made more sense for them to have taken part in History’s Longest Boodle Fight, bingeing their collective stress away. Or maybe a soirée which would have made Gaspar Noe’s Climax look like a Disney movie. The list of more sensible consequences to collective abject distress goes on.

 

So why was dance their body’s knee-jerk response to complete mental atrophy?

Bad dancing affords you a guiltless self-examination, setting the most brazen version of yourself free but without insidiousness.

Personally, I do not require psyche-altering anguish to feel the Need To Get Down. Back in the Old Normal, copious amounts of gin and a DJ with Dreams by Fleetwood Mac on his playlist would have sufficed. These days a Drop of Good News and some down time proved to be enough. Needless to say, both allowed me the confidence only an unhinged Prima Ballerina who spent her life fighting tooth and nail for the spotlight could match. While not everyone might reach that level of shamelessness, I am quite certain that the desire to dance is innate in every human being.

 

Some people have the skill and training to do it well, and others are afforded a je ne sais quoi which makes swaying from side to side on Energy Saving Mode look like they’re dancing well. Both groups give in to the Boogie Bug’s Bitemark fairly easily; but the third group, the Bad Dancers, are split further into two categories: The Bad Dancers who resist, opting to Stand Awkwardly While Intermittently Bopping their Heads, and the Bad Dancers who go for the jugular and Just Dance Terribly.

 

I am here to campaign for the unification of the two classifications; ergo inviting the Head Boppers to consider joining the latter kind. Dance terribly with us, you know you want to. (It’s not the best slogan, but I find it to be a slight improvement from ‘Make Hoards of People Dance For No Good Reason Again, But Hopefully Not to Death This Time.’)

Bad dancing affords you a guiltless self-examination, setting the most brazen version of yourself free but without insidiousness. A complete disregard for logic is employed not because of an inability to control how you feel, but because of a lack of a need to. It’s a peaceful anarchy of giving in to your most primal desires not because they’re uncontrollable; but just because you can, and it feels damn good.

 

With that said, I wouldn’t advocate for people forcing themselves to dance, but to simply allow themselves to. If you’re certain you’ll never be comfortable dancing terribly in front of other people, do it alone in your room. Have a waltz with loneliness; it’s a lot more fun than it sounds.

 

Besides, as much as I’d love to tout bad dancing as the ultimate power move of the I Am Secure Enough to Not Care What Other People Think movement, I suspect that unwitting audiences to one’s terrible moves won’t have enough thoughts on it to not care about in the first place. Its effect on other people would most likely be to provide a) brief amusement or b) a Mildly Entertaining Instagram Story as Proof of a Good Time™.

Wash away the need to be good at something before you do it. Feel good about doing it terribly. That is an incredibly difficult task for most things; but bad dancing would be a no risk, high reward place to start.

 So give it a go. Dance yourself clean.

Wash away the need to be good at something before you do it. Feel good about doing it terribly. That is an incredibly difficult task for most things; but bad dancing would be a no risk, high reward place to start.

 

Historians have guessed that it was the abject helplessness of living in a region riddled with starvation and disease that Summer of 1518 that caused the uncontrollable, and ultimately fatal dancing of the people of Strasbourg during the dancing plague. So no, it is not the actual dancing in this event that I’d like to highlight in making a case for bad dancing; but the need to have agency over our needs as human beings. Food. Sex. And as I’ve argued, Dance.

 

It is for this reason that bad dancing is practicing how to do things we’re not good at, but enjoy anyway. The more things we’re able to do without the pressure to do them well, the less likely we might find ourselves helpless. 

 

I’m not good at dancing. In fact, I’m terrible at it, and I won’t always feel like doing it anyway. But when I do find myself wanting to, I’d happily keep stumbling over my own two left feet just to see where they take me.

Author's Note: Jonathan Glazer recently directed an intoxicating short showcasing the dancing plague of 1518 in the context of our times.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Danielle writes mostly on culture, film, and entertainment. You can find her work on Purveyr and Wonder. She also directs digital ads, but when she’s doing neither she’s most likely jumping from rabbit hole to rabbit hole of her random obsessions.

Elaine Forsgate Marden

Fernando &  Kit Zobel de Ayala