Sunday, December 16, 2018

Dancing Plague: Choreomania

Between the 13th to 16th century large populations of Europe were afflicted with frenzied dancing. People would gather together and dance until they dropped with exhaustion or sometimes death. The Dancing Plague or choreomania was a significant challenge to public health as it pervaded through the populations of Germany, Holland and Italy for three centuries.

First described medically by Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim better known as Paracelsus (1493-1541). The cause of the dancing plague (or dancing mania) remains unknown. Paracelsus, Philippus Aureolus, was a Swiss physician, chemist, alchemist and metallurgist, he gained wide popularity, although his contemporaries often opposed him. Paracelsus classified variants of the disorder according to whether the underlying cause was lust, an abnormal mental state, or some unidentified physical factor. Davidson (1867) later defined the condition of choreomania as a psycho-physical disease in which the will, intellectual faculties, and moral feelings are more or less perverted, with an irresistible impulse to motion, and an insane love of music, often sporadic, but with a tendency in certain circumstances to become epidemic. The essential features of the disease were it could occur sporadically or in epidemics. It was a psychological disease distinguishable from modern chorea, and from organic nervous diseases.

Choreomania was always characterised by an uncontrollable impulse to dance, and a morbid love of music. Physical contact with an affected person was not a prerequisite for contracting the disease (the sight or sound of someone already afflicted could be sufficient). In its epidemic form, an attack was generally preceded by premonitory nervous symptoms and the disease was commonly manifest by physical symptoms including death. Many claims were made as to the actual cause including demonic possession, epilepsy, tarantula bites, ergot poisoning as well as social adversity. It is unlikely to have been caused by any one single event but instead due to multiple factors combined with predisposition such as cultural background, and triggered by adverse circumstances. (Donaldson, Cavanagh and Rankin, 1997).

Corrupt clergy claimed baptism prevented the disease and hence, by reverse logic, claims were made the dancing plague was caused by demonic possession. Because the involuntary movements during an epileptic seizure appeared similar to dance like movement many contemporaries confused the condition but it is unlikely the dancing plague had any connection with epilepsy.

In Italy from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries as deforestation took place a large population of tarantulas appeared in the Apulian region. Many claimed spider bites were the cause of choreomania but due to the nature of the disease this is also thought unlikely.

The most plausible cause was poisoning due to eating rye contaminated with a fungus, claviceps purpura. This resulted in ergot poisoning which gave symptoms such as nausea, abdominal cramps, itching, muscle pain, spasms, and visual and hearing disturbances, all of which may precede epileptic convulsions. Larger quantities of rye were consumed during periods of hardship when people could not afford meat. The Christian church was determined to stamp out old and pagan religions and would brand previous forms of worship as the behaviour of the ill and disturbed. Another reason for the Dancing Plague was a spontaneous release from the bleakness of the Middle Ages. The Church realised the danger of dancing and a council meeting in Paris (1212) declared that "dancing was a worse crime then ploughing the soil on Sunday" (Hennig, 1995).

(Video Courtesy: jesserussell by Youtube Channel)

By the sixteenth century court dancing was well established and the tune Green Sleeves was popular at this time. Green Sleeves is considered by many to be the oldest dance tune to have survived in modern times.

During the 14th to the 16th century in Europe there was an important ritual called the Dance of Death. The parade was led by a figure representing death and became established after the Black Death in 1373. It is thought the dance of death reflected rituals performed by primitive peoples, who had also danced to acknowledge the passing of the seasons of the year and of a human life on Earth. Other dances in the Middle Ages did the same.

In the spring dances, village people performed fertility dances including Morris Dancing and during certain saints' day women danced in churches. Battle dances including the sword dances were performed throughout Europe.

Apart from ceremonial shoes which were found in tribal dancing from North America to Australia there appears to be no special shoe requirement for European dancing until after the 11th Century in Europe where more and more social dancing became the prerogative of aristocracy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Chronic foot strain from dancing: Marathon, Disco and Raver's Foot

Overuse of the feet during dance marathons was a common cause of foot strain and sore feet. The design of dancing shoes, particularly the formal types, is seldom consistent with the anatomical features of the foot and by their very nature tends to be smaller and tighter than everyday footwear. The degree of foot strain is related directly to time spent on the feet. Professional dancers are less prone to acute foot strain than the amateur dancer. To the uninitiated too many visits to the dance club may result in hot, swollen and tender joints. Depending on the severity this may range from mild discomfort to total collapse. Complete rest is indicated for a few days with absolute recovery guaranteed thereafter.

Disco Foot was a recognised medical condition and was first identified in the 1970's with the popularity of discotheques. 20th century dance crazes brought with them painful foot conditions generally associated with overuse. From the Black Bottom to the Twist, from Ballroom to Boot scooting, all have claimed their victims.

Dance marathons originated in the US and were very popular in the thirties and forties. More recently the nineties equivalent was the Rave and Raver's Foot brought the chemical generation chronic foot strain. The symptoms are pain and tenderness within the joints of the feet. Closer examination usually reveals hot, moist, skin and the foot is visibly swollen. Often the sufferer will consciously change the way they hold their feet and further injuries, such as ankle sprains and bone fractures, may follow. Secondary changes to the shape of the foot may result with inevitable advanced osteoarthrosis affecting the weight bearing joints. This is of great concern to the professional dancer especially since chronic foot strain does not readily respond to conservative treatment.

In the case of ballet dancers for example, years of abuse result in irreversible gross deformities of the forefoot. There are five formally defined positions with very specific movements. After young female dancers develop sufficient body strength and dance technique they change their footwear from pumps (technique shoes) to pointe shoes (or toe shoes). In pointe shoes, the body's weight is supported primarily on the first and second toes only. All parents want their offspring to develop deportment but fortunately not everyone will make a ballet dancer.

Tap dance and Soft Shoe Shuffle is gaining popularity as is ballroom and modern dancing. Dance shoes vary in design and construction depending on the type of dance performed. The tap shoe does however give support to the foot and a fighting chance to combat foot strain. As always with any recreational sport it is a question of exercise to tolerance and choose comfortable shoes especially for practice. When problems arise see your foot physician.

(Video Courtesy: Tap Dogs Official by Youtube Channel)

Reviewed 22/11/2018

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Two Amazing Northern Soul Dancers

(Video Courtesy: Northern Soul Young And Old Youtube Channel)

Monday, July 23, 2018

Ballet Shoes : Carbon Fibre Shanks

The price of a good pair of ballet shoes is expensive and en pointe shoes , on average, last about one pair per performance. Ballerinas are tough on their shoes and the main problem seems to be the reinforced cardboard shank of the shoe

Pointe shoes have two important pivotal parts: the “box” or toe block holds the toes in place and never bends: and the shank which runs along the bottom of the entire foot and gives support to some of a dancer’s weight. This needs to be flexible rnough to withstand torque (twisting) to give the foot support en point without snapping . Repeated hops and leaps in high humidity (perspiration) cause the shank to fatigue giving no support to the foot and increasing the risk of injury.

Abigail Freed is a young ballet dancer determined to solve the problem with science and developed a proto-type carbon-fibre shank as a project. Material made up of tiny fibres of carbon atoms. Each between 5 to 10 micrometres thick (a tenth of the width of a human hair), makes a strong lightweight material capable of reinforcing everything from the blades of helicopters to protective fabrics.

Abigail bought a roll of carbon fibre fabric from the web and after carefully removing the origian cardboard shank in her ballet shoes replaced it with a carbon fibre template. She experimented with different thicknesses, carefully going through her dance positions, in trial and error fashion until she found a winning combination. After preliminary invivo tests proved successful , she took her pointe shoes to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), run by Society for Science & the Public, a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of science. She now hopes to patent her shoe.

(Video Courtesy: The Australian Ballet Youtube Channel)

Further Reading
Colucci LA, Klein DE (2008) Development of an innovative pointe shoe Ergonomics in Design Summer p6-12

Friday, July 20, 2018

James Brown - Get on the Good Foot

(Video Courtesy: '00s Grits & Soul Youtube Channel)