Thursday, May 26, 2022

Insights for Andersen's The Red Shoes: The people who 'danced themselves to death' by Rosalind Jana


BBC News published an interesting article about "dance plagues" or choreomania. These phenomena are part of what inspired Hans Christian Andersen's "The Red Shoes."

Read the full article at The people who 'danced themselves to death' by Rosalind Jana (12th May 2022).

Here's an excerpt to perhaps catch your interest (the inserted links below are to the mentioned items on Amazon):

Uncontrollable dance has a bewitching effect on those who contemplate it. One only has to think of the popular Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Red Shoes, with its cursed scarlet leather slippers that condemn their owner into a dance so tortuous that she eventually finds an executioner to hack off her own feet. It is a horrible tale, and people love it. Although its moral implications are relatively straightforward (a good old dose of punishment for vanity: the shoes' wearer put through this ordeal because she dared to covet such beautiful footwear in the first place), its darker suggestions of possession and incessant movement have inspired numerous works including a Powell and Pressburger film, a Kate Bush album, and several ballets.

This summer, the dance plague itself returns in earnest. Florence + The Machine's fifth album Dance Fever, released today, takes its cues from the unstoppable impulses of choreomania. The accompanying release notes outline frontwoman Florence Welch's interest in this volatile meeting point between energetic motion and moral panic, as well as touching on the subject's obvious resonance on an album recorded during the Covid-19 pandemic, when "the whirl of movement and togetherness" was both missed and anticipated. A dance plague is an apt theme for someone who wants to explore uncertainty and change. The opening lines of the song Choreomania – written before the pandemic – are uncannily prescient: "And I'm freaking out in the middle of the street / With the complete conviction of someone who has never actually had anything really bad happen to them." It's also apt for a singer so consistently preoccupied by the body as a tool of expression. Music videos for the album's singles King and Heaven is Here feature the same group of dancers who writhe around Welch, their motions uninhibited as they stamp their feet and dash their skirts.

A book to learn even more is mentioned in the article:

A Time to Dance, a Time to Die: The Extraordinary Story of the Dancing Plague of 1518 by John Waller

After one woman had danced to exhaustion in Strasbourg in July 1518, the dancing sickness quickly escalated into an epidemic that lasted over a month, with many people dying after dancing with crazed abandon for days. This study tells the story of the dancing plague, evokes the sights and sounds of the afflicted city and seeks to explain why people lapsed into that state of frantic delirium.

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