St. Vitus’ Plauge; Or; The Truth Behind Disney Song and Dance Numbers

Between the 14th and 17th century, a rather unique plague repeatedly struck Europe: St. Vitus’ Plague. It’s also known as the Dancing Plague or dancing mania. Large groups of people would abruptly break out into dance, which could last for days, weeks, or even months, only seldom stopping for food or rest. Many people died of exhaustion during the breakouts of St. Vitus’ Plague. One incident, the Dancing Plague of 1518, affected over 400 people, lasting for a full month. Other, related, phenomenon existed as well. Tarantism is the best example of one of them- it was a form of dancing mania nominally either caused by a spider bite or performed to cure one of its venom, though scientists and historians mostly agree that spiders weren’t involved. Ergot poisoning has also been linked to dancing mania. (Hurrah for hallucinogen producing fungi on grains being extremely common in Medieval Europe!)

In light of this, Disney movies take on something of a more sinister light. How many Disney movies have you seen where townsfolk break into spontaneous song and dance? It happens constantly. For years now it’s been treated as harmless fun, but what if Disney is trying to portray a potentially fatal medical condition, and we’re all missing the message? How many innocent Disney extras have died offscreen from dancing induced exhaustion?

Even the ergot poisoning aspect has ample representation in Disney- in the introductory song in Beauty and the Beast, the baker is not only featured early on in the song, but actually is featured in the lyrics. In the Kingdom Dance in Tangled, bread is not only featured at the beginning of a dance sequence, but other grain products are featured throughout it as well.

We shouldn’t be amused and entertained by these song and dance sequences- we should be properly, respectfully somber, in honor of the victims of St. Victus’ Plague. Wipe that grin off, history shouldn’t be fun- learning about it should be a process of misery and degradation to the student.