Stop...Don’t Put On Your Dancing Shoes | Adamas University

Stop…Don’t Put On Your Dancing Shoes


Stop…Don’t Put On Your Dancing Shoes

Let me transport  you back to your child hood and tell you a bed time story.  Fairy tales have often had a very special place in my heart . Years back it was given to me as a bribe to visit the dentist who excavated or at times uprooted my chocolate indulged teeth. Sometimes I got it as a prize for not failing in class . Whatever the reasons being quite an introvert who welcomes solitude wholeheartedly the wonders of the fairy tales always enchanted and captured my imagination.

A Fairy Tale

Out of the many stories the story of  “The Red Shoe”by Hans Anderson somehow scared me when I was small. The story is about a little girl named Karen who got a pair of red shoes by a kind old lady who adopted her after her parents died. She loved the shoes so much that she wore in everywhere. Every Sunday she put on her bright red shoes and went to the church with this lady . Oneday she met an old soldier near the church who cleaned their shoes for a shilling. While cleaning her shoes he kept on repeating’ pretty dancing shoes’. When she left the soldier she realized she couldn’t stop dancing , as a result she was forcefully hauled into the carriage and her shoes were taken out. For the next few weeks she did not touch her shoes . Meanwhile the old lady fell ill. Karen was stuck in the house and longed to go out dancing, but instead she had to look after the lady . Once seeing an opportunity for escape she put on her red shoes and ran to the village for dancing . While coming back the shoes seem to have a life on its own they kept on dancing taking her here and there till she was so tired that she could not dance anymore. Yet they would not stop dancing till she forced herself to go uphill to the house of a swordsman. Where she requested him to cut off her feet as the shoes were enchanted. The swordsman did as he was asked and also made her a pair of wooden legs and crutches. Only then she found peace.

A  Strange History

The story was meant to teach a lesson about vanity and avoiding responsibilities however while studying about mental illness I found a remarkable likeness with an illness called ‘ dance mania’ which erupted in the 14th century in the wake of the Black Death. This illness recurred for centuries in central Europe- particularly Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium- finally abating in the early 17th century.

Original caption: Dancing mania sweeps through Europe during medieval plague.

The term ‘Dancing Mania” was derived from “choreomania’ . Here “choreo” meant dance and Mania meant “Madness”. This took the form of epidemics of raving, jumping, dancing, and convulsions. Records of a  physician from the thirteenth century revealed that a person affected from this disease would suddenly jump out and feel the acute pain like a sting of a bee . Some saw spiders and others didn’t . They would then run out in the streets, marketplace and would dance in great excitement. Soon they would be joined by others who have been bitten previously or recently. They would dance wildly and erotically wearing queer clothes . Some would tear their clothes being naked, roll in the dirt, drink  and talk like drunken people.

In the end most simply dropped down, overwhelmed with exhaustion and some ended up in a state of ecstasy.

This disease was referred to as tarantism which was prevalent in Southern Italy from the 15th to the 17th centuries and was attributed to bites from the tarantula spider. and when it spread to Germany it was referred to as St. Vitus’s dance.

Possible Causes

In the 16th century this mania was considered as an ordeal sent by saint, or a punishment from God for people’s sins. However it is in this century that Paracelsus (1493-1541) refuting the idea that saints or God had created this suggested psychogenic cause or malingered etiology putting it under the purview of physicians. Some of the causes of dance mania has been attributed to

  • A mass stress induced psychosis
  • A mass psychogenic illness
  • A culturally determined form of ritualistic behaviour
  • A manifestation of religious ecstasy
  • Food poisoning caused by the toxic and psychoactive chemical products of ergot fungi.
  • ‘Shared stress’ by people caused by natural disasters of that time. (Hetherington and Munro,1997)

Dance Mania appears to have completely died out in the mid 17th Century. In reality dancing mania did not have a single cause.  Any of these could have been a reason for such a manifestation. Whatever the reasons it showed how strange human behaviour can be and how fascinating the realm of Psychology is.  So next time you put on your dancing shoes, think twice.


  • Andersen, H. C. (Hans Christian), 1805-1875. (2006). The complete Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales. New York :Gramercy Books.
  • Bogousslavsky, J. (2017). Neurologic-Psychiatric Syndromes in Focus Part II – From Psychiatry to Neurology.
  • Coleman, J. C. (1950). Abnormal psychology and modern life.Scott, Foresman
  • Hetherington, Kevin; Munro, Rolland (1997). Ideas of difference. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN978-0-631-20768-9.

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