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The Dancing Plague of 1518 Commonlit Answers

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  • 8th Grade
  • Lexile: 112

Source: The Dancing Plague of 1518 by Doug MacGowan

Assessment Answers

QuestionAnswer
PART A: Which of the following statements best describes a central idea of the text?“In the early 1500s, a group of townspeople began dancing for no apparent reason and, even more troubling, they could not stop.”
PART B: Which of the following quotes best supports the answer to Part A?“In July of 1518, in full view of her neighbors, Frau Troffea began to violently dance in the streets of the city of Strasbourg, France …. She appeared unable to stop herself from her frenzy.” (Paragraph 2)
PART A: What is the effect of the word choice “frenzy” in paragraph 2?It implies a wildness and lack of control to one’s movements and energy.
PART B: Which of the following quotes best supports the answer to Part A?“She appeared unable to stop herself” (Paragraph 2)
Which of the following statements most accurately describes the relationship between the dancers?The dancers were all part of the same small village, and were influenced in some fashion by one another to begin-and continue-dancing.

Summarize one of the theories mentioned in the text that explains why the villagers began to dance. What are the weak points of said theory? Cite evidence from the text to support your answer.

One of the theories mentioned in the text to explain why the villagers began to dance is the idea of mass hysteria. This theory suggests that the dancers were victims of a psychological phenomenon where more than one person believes they are afflicted by an identical malady, often during times of extreme stress within the affected community.

The text notes that the Strasbourg incident occurred during a time of rampant famine and malnutrition, which could have contributed to the extreme stress levels that led to mass hysteria.

This is highlighted by the comparison to the Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic of 1962, which affected only 95 people, suggesting that mass hysteria can indeed spread through communities under certain conditions.

The weak point of this theory, as implied in the text, is the scale of the incident. The Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic, a well-known recent example of mass hysteria, affected only 95 people, making the scale of the Dancing Plague, with at least 400 participants, unusually large for such phenomena.

This discrepancy raises questions about whether mass hysteria alone could account for the widespread participation and endurance of the Dancing Plague of 1518.

The text hints at this skepticism by contrasting the number of affected individuals in both incidents, suggesting that while mass hysteria could be a contributing factor, it might not fully explain the extensive and sustained nature of the Dancing Plague.

Discussion Answers

Why do you think this event is referred to as a “plague”?

The event is referred to as a “plague” likely because of its widespread impact and the negative consequences it had on the affected community, similar to the way infectious diseases spread and cause harm.

The term “plague” is often associated with widespread affliction, suffering, and death, which fits the description of the Dancing Plague of 1518 where hundreds of villagers were compelled to dance uncontrollably, leading to extreme exhaustion and, in some cases, death.

The use of the term also emphasizes the mysterious and uncontrollable nature of the event, akin to how plagues historically struck communities with little understanding of their cause or how to effectively treat them.

The Dancing Plague’s rapid spread among the people of Strasbourg and its serious physical consequences mirror the devastating effects of a biological plague, hence the use of the term to describe this phenomenon.


In the text-dependent section, you were asked to explain one of the theories behind this strange event. What do you think caused the dancing plague? Do you have any other theories not mentioned in the text?

Given the information provided in the text and the context of historical events, the Dancing Plague of 1518 seems to have been caused by a combination of factors rather than a single identifiable cause.

While the text presents theories such as mass hysteria, ergot poisoning (ergotism), and religious or cultural factors (like veneration of Saint Vitus), each theory has its strengths and weaknesses.

My perspective leans towards a multifaceted explanation:

  1. Mass Hysteria: The psychological phenomenon of mass hysteria, fueled by the stressful conditions of the time (such as famine and malnutrition), seems plausible as a primary trigger. The collective stress and anxiety could have manifested physically in a way that was culturally understandable to them—through dance. However, the sheer number of participants and the duration of the event suggest that mass hysteria might not fully account for the phenomenon.
  2. Ergotism: While the symptoms of ergotism include convulsions, which could be misinterpreted as dancing, the text suggests that the movements of the afflicted were more akin to purposeful dancing than to the involuntary movements typically associated with convulsions. This theory also doesn’t fully account for the social spread of the dancing.
  3. Social and Cultural Factors: The veneration of Saint Vitus, who was believed to protect against epilepsy and similar conditions, could hint at a cultural or religious motivation or justification for the dancing. This could have been a form of a collective religious or superstitious ritual enacted during a period of distress, though it doesn’t entirely explain the involuntary nature of the dancing as described.

An additional theory not mentioned in the text could involve social and psychological pressures combined with cultural expressions of distress. In times of hardship, communities might resort to extreme measures for relief or intervention. The dancing could have started as a deliberate act (perhaps an appeal to divine forces for intervention or a communal attempt to ward off perceived negative influences) that spiraled out of control, with psychological factors and social contagion playing significant roles in its escalation.

Ultimately, the Dancing Plague of 1518 might best be understood as a complex event with no single cause. Its occurrence likely resulted from a unique combination of environmental stressors, psychological factors, and cultural practices, making it a fascinating but challenging phenomenon to fully explain with the information currently available.


In the context of this informational text, why do people follow the crowd? Do people behave differently in crowds? Do you think the dancing plague was caused just from people doing what others were doing? Cite evidence from this text, your own experience, and other literature, art, or history in your answer.

In the context of the informational text about the Dancing Plague of 1518, the phenomenon of people following the crowd can be understood through several psychological and social perspectives.

People tend to follow the crowd due to social conformity, mass hysteria, and the human tendency to mimic others’ behaviors, especially in situations of uncertainty or stress.

Evidence from the Text:

The Dancing Plague itself is an extreme example of people behaving differently in crowds. The spread of the dancing, with more and more individuals joining, suggests a kind of social contagion.

The text mentions the theory of mass hysteria as one explanation, where the stress and anxiety of the time might have manifested in a collective physical expression.

This theory is supported by the fact that the event occurred during a period of significant hardship for the community, with rampant famine and malnutrition.

Evidence from Psychology:

Social psychology offers insights into crowd behavior, notably through studies like Solomon Asch’s conformity experiments, which demonstrate how individuals often conform to group norms even when they contradict their own senses.

In crowds, people can lose their sense of individual responsibility and become more susceptible to suggestion, a phenomenon known as deindividuation.

Historical and Cultural Examples:

Historical and cultural examples abound of people being swept up in collective behaviors and beliefs. The Salem Witch Trials are another instance where mass hysteria and social pressures led to extreme actions against supposed witches.

Similarly, religious and cultural gatherings can induce trance-like states and collective movements, suggesting that human behavior in groups can differ significantly from individual behavior.

Personal and Societal Reflections:

Reflecting on personal experiences, it’s not uncommon to find oneself behaving differently in group settings, whether in participating more enthusiastically in events or adopting group opinions that one might not hold independently.

Society witnesses similar phenomena in trends and fads, where individuals might follow popular behaviors or beliefs, driven by a desire to conform or be part of a collective experience.

The Dancing Plague’s Causes:

While the Dancing Plague might have started with one individual, its spread was likely not due solely to others mimicking the behavior. The context of the time, including prevalent superstitions, religious beliefs, and the extreme duress under which the people lived, contributed to a fertile ground for such an extraordinary event.

This suggests that while the initial act might have been imitated, the continuation and escalation of the dancing were driven by a complex mix of psychological, social, and possibly environmental factors.

In conclusion, the Dancing Plague of 1518 exemplifies how people can behave differently in crowds, driven by a combination of social conformity, mass hysteria, and environmental stressors.

This event underscores the complex interplay between individual psychology and collective behavior, showing that while following the crowd is a common human tendency, the reasons behind such actions can be multifaceted and deeply rooted in the human psyche and societal conditions.

Other Commonlit Answers

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