They call it The Dance

So you think you know what’s going on inside her head

On June 24th, in 1354, the largest outbreak of Choreomania occurred in Aachen, Germany.It subsequently spread to other cities in Germany, the low countries, and Italy.

This phenomenon has been called, variously, Dancing Mania, Dancing Plague, and St. Vitus’ Dance. At the time, the cause was attributed to a curse sent by St. John the Baptist or St. Vitus, due to correlations between the outbreaks and the June feast days of those saints. Much later, the evolution of medical science diagnosed St. Vitus’ Dance as Sydenham’s chorea, an involuntary jerking of the hands, feet and face.

The mass phenomenon of the middle ages, however, is more often considered a social affliction rather than a medical one. The outbreaks are described as affecting up to tens of thousands of people at a time, making contagions or similar causes (such as spider bites) an improbable source.

The Aachen outbreak and other large outbreaks of the Dancing Plague occurred during times of economic hardship. This has suggested one medical cause, a hallucinogenic effect of a grain fungus that can spread with flooding and damp periods.

The affliction was said to be deadly, with the only cure being the playing of the right music.

Similarly, I have been trying to sooth the violent convulsions in this morning’s financial markets by playing selected songs from less troubled times. Feel free to join me.

Mayday, Mayday, Mayday!

“If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now.

In 1927, the term Mayday was adopted as a spoken equivalent of the Morse Code SOS signal. The term itself is an Anglicization of the French phrase m’aider (to aid me or to help me), itself a shortened version of the phrase venez m’aider (come to help me).

Also in 1927, the First of May was proposed as a celebration of the native culture of the Hawaiian Islands. It is known as May Day or Lei Day. The holiday is intended to be non-political, non-partisan, and non-religious.

This is in contrast to the significance of the date in much of Europe. International Workers’ Day was established as a commemoration of the Haymarket Riot. A labor strike was called on May 1st, 1886 in Chicago, IL to agitate for the establishment of an eight-hour work day. The strike turned violent on May 3rd, with the police firing on striking workers who were attacking replacement workers at the site of a lock-out. Between two and six workers were reportedly killed.

A flyer was printed by an anarchist group, calling the striking workers to a mass meeting as well as calling them “to arms.” The meeting, on the night of May 4th, lasted for several hours before the police moved in and ordered the crowd to disperse. As the police approached the crowd, and unknown person threw a bomb into the path of the advancing police, killing one officer instantly and mortally wounding six others. There was a firefight. At least four workers were killed, and sixty officers wounded as well as fifty or more strikers. The public opinion turned against the labor movement and ultimately a number of anarchists were executed on charges relating to the incident. The unions, however, suspected infiltrators were responsible for bombing so as to discredit the movement.

In 1890, the First of May was declared to be International Worker’s Day in an effort to unite Socialists, call attention to the eight-hour work day movement, and memorialize the (labor) victims of the Haymarket incident. Riots occurred in Cleveland in 1894 and 1919. It was not until 1978 when May Day (observed on the first Monday in May) became a labour holiday in the United Kingdom. In 2000, May Day riots resulted in (among other incidents) the destruction of a McDonald’s Restaurant on The Strand in London.

This has created a modern nexus with the traditional Anglo-Saxon holiday celebrating the coming of Spring and fertility. Modern celebrators connect the socialist roots where May Day equates to Labor Day with the pagan/earth/new age-y roots of the pagan fertility festivals.

Here at A Plague of Frogs Studios, we have the day off because it is Sunday. No political, partisan or religious connotations intended.