In July 1518, for reasons still unexplained, a dancing plague swept through Strasbourg. What began with one woman compulsively boogying her way around town broadened into a frenzied movement numbering nearly 400. The crowds danced without rest for days and even weeks, getting down without so much as a beat. The superstitious townsfolk saw the divine at work in the viral paroxysms, and encouraged the dancing machines to dance more. The "epidemic" lasted through the end of the summer, leaving a shaken and bewildered populace in its wake. By that point, some had literally danced their hearts out, while others abruptly stopped jigging and resumed their normal activities. What had provoked the city-wide, months-long “flash”-dance?
Historians and sociologists are still split on the matter. A couple years back, historian John Waller, who authored a couple of books on the matter, pointed to mass psychosis brought on by intense stress, itself manifested by a long run of famine, disease, and poverty. Others suggest widespread exposure to ergotism, the delirious, nearly psychotropic state that can follow from consumption of ergot-tainted bread. Which one is it? The mystery of the dance fever continues.
Brazilian graphic designer Niege Borges doesn’t have a prescription to uncovering the event’s causal underpinnings. In fact, Borges’s “Dancing Plague of 1518” shares only one affinity with the epidemic from which this series of posters takes its name: dancing. The project, a series of 20 minimalist poster designs, each scrawled with an iconic dance culled from the history of cinema and TV, was under way before Borges heard about the (historically undisputed) tale.
Borges stumbled onto the idea for the project after watching an episode of Flight of the Conchords, the one where the shorter half of the Kiwi duo recreates Footloose’s famous dance sequence. She doodled the choreography on sheet music, breaking down “Brett’s Angry Dance” into isolated, graphic-friendly poses. She refined the technique, started a blog on Tumblr, and began uploading the posters as she made them. Soon, she was flooded with requests from followers asking for her treatment of revered pop-culture dances, such as Family Guy’s frenetic “Word is the Bird,” which Borges renders into a buttery tango.
Once she reached 20 editions, though, she paused. “I thought that was a good stopping point,” Borges tells Co. Design, “and I was tired of doing them.” But what of the classics she’s left behind? There’s the one reproducing the infamous diner dance from Pulp Fiction, with the orange-y outlines of John Travolta and Uma Thurman suspended on a field of black. And Borges’s rendition of Elaine’s thumbs-up dance from Seinfeld, which is bound to end up as your screensaver. (Don’t fight it.) The best of the series, though, has gotta be the Arrested Development-themed poster (buy it at Borges’s shop), where the Bluth family’s take(s) on the chicken-dance is arrayed on a bright orange background. Try stopping the chicken-dance plague come May 26.