"..a bardy view!"

The Harlem Shake – Choreomania

There used to be a medical term for this: St Vitus’ Dance.dancing plague_0

There’s an outbreak of exhibitionism going on, which involves people losing their sanity and gyrating like demented chimpanzees.

Also known as “Dancing Mania“, it was a social phenomenon that particularly occurred in Europe during the 14th and 17th centuries. It involved groups of people dancing erratically.

It’s also been known as “epidemic dancing” and scientists described it as a “collective mental disorder”“collective hysterical disorder” and “mass madness”.

Historically previous records indicate that they took place in times of hardship.

There were also suggestions that people suffered from some kind of poisoning, stress, or tension caused by natural disasters – a collective shared stress, and many danced to relieve themselves of the stress and poverty of the times. Another popular theory is that the outbreaks were all staged.

Yet here we are in the 21st Century and a similar thing is happening. What is possessing seemingly normal people to behave like blithering idiots, from a plane load of people hysterically dancing in the aisles at 30,000 feet, to miners underground in Australia – most of whom have been fired as a consequence? Why would people risk losing their jobs, ignoring health and safety, just to expose themselves as a bunch of lunatics seeking attention on the internet?

There are four thousand “Harlem Shake” dances uploaded on YouTube every day involving people of all ages. The form is that one suddenly begins behaving erratically, and whilst ignored by those around, all quickly start joining in. This is exactly what the early records reported four hundred years ago.

St Vitus’ Dance is a saying rarely heard these days, although it was still quite common in the sixties and generally stated by elderly Victorian aunts to their fidgeting nieces and nephews. I myself was accused of it when I couldn’t sit still on one of my grandmother’s dining chairs when I was expected to be seen and not heard. Although that was a result
of boredom and not a desire to be noticed. Otherwise I could have been sent to an asylum.

It looks to me that the lunatics have actually taken over the asylum.

These “Harlem Shake” memes are clearly a modern day equivalent of the unexplained phenomena from the Middle Ages, except the difference is that we now have the internet to utilise them.

Well, there’s nowt so strange as folk!

What goes around comes around presumably.

Related articles

Harlem Shake: Oz Miners Fired For Dance
Gold miners in Australia fired for performing Harlem Shake underground
Miners fired for doing Harlem Shake
You: Australian miners fired for ‘Harlem Shake’

March 4, 2013 - Posted by | Arts, Current Affairs, Education, Europe, Events, History, Humour, Science | , , , , , ,


  1. Well, I’ve got the shakes, the hippy, hippy, shakes. Must watch my Scot(ch) intake?


    Comment by spookmoor | March 4, 2013 | Reply

  2. Oh, I am so glad that I am not the only one who has heard of the St. Vitus Dance! Sir Bard, you amaze me! Your observation of mass dancing based on internet provocation is spot on, and your observation could imply The Harlem Shake is contagious. I remember when my grandmother accused my brothers of having the St. Vitus Dance because they couldn’t sit still in her dining chairs, either. Also, when watching American Band Stand on TV, my Mother would often claim the kids dancing the Watusi had the same disease.


    Comment by charlino | March 9, 2013 | Reply

  3. It suddenly occurred to me to seek the history of “St Vitus Dance” and I was really surprised to see the similarities today. The phrase was clearly very common in previous generations, and perhaps future ones will call it the “Harlem Shake”. Thanks for your story Charlino – I’m glad to know that I wasn’t the only one accused of it.


    Comment by Bar De Ness | March 13, 2013 | Reply

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