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A fanatical sect of wandering men and women, so called because of the obscenely grotesque dance that characterized their religious frenzy. Dance madness was reported as early as the 9th century among certain monks and nuns of Syria, but in Europe the source was probably the old Germanic dances celebrating the summer solstice (Sommerson-nenwend-Tänze ), which in the Christian Era honored the nativity of John the Baptist (Sankti Johannis Chorea). Chorisantes (called variously Dansatores, Dansers, and Tänzer ) appeared sporadically in the Rhineland and in the Low Countries from the 14th to 16th centuries. Their dance frenzy occurred usually in public places, near or in churches. Since they were regarded as being under diabolical possession because of invalid baptism or of baptism administered by a priest living in concubinage, their cure was sought in exorcism and in pilgrimages to churches of St. Vitus (hence, St. Vitus's dance).

Bibliography: "Annales Fossenses," Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Scriptores (Berlin 1826) 4:35. p. de herenthals in É. baluze, Vitae paparum Avenionensium, ed. g. mollat, 4 v. (Paris 191427) 1:466467. radulph de rivo, Gesta pontificum Leodiensium in Gesta pontificum Tungrensium, Trajectensium, et Leodiensium, ed. j. chapeauville, 3 v. (Liège 161216) 3:1922. j. f. k. hecker, The Dancing Mania of the Middle Ages, tr. b. g. babington (New York 1885). p. frÉdÉricq, De secten der geselaars en der dansers in de Nederlanden (Brussels 1899). g. bareille, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 4.1:134136.

[m. f. laughlin]

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