Why are we called the St. Vitus Dancers?
As you may know, last year, our dance troupe changed its name to the St. Vitus Dancers. While the reason was legal, the new name still holds a lot of meaning and symbolism for our troupe. To understand the meaning, first you must learn about the actual Saint Vitus!
Vitus, the saint
According to Christian legend, Saint Vitus was a Christian saint from Sicily. He died as a martyr during the persecution of Christians by Roman Emperors Diocletian and Maximian in 303. Saint Vitus is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers of medieval Roman Catholicism, and Saint Vitus’ Day on the calendar of saints is celebrated on June 15. That date coincides with June 28 on our modern Gregorian Calendar.
Though Saint Vitus himself had nothing to do with dancing, In the late Middle Ages, people in Germany and countries such as Latvia celebrated the feast of Vitus by dancing before his statue. This dancing became popular and the name led to Saint Vitus being considered the patron saint of dancers and of entertainers in general. He is also said to protect against lightning strikes, animal attacks and oversleeping!
Saint Vitus’ Dance, the disease
Sydenham’s chorea is a disease characterized by rapid, uncoordinated jerking movements primarily affecting the face, hands and feet. The disease is historically called Saint Vitus’ Dance as homage to the manic dancing that used to take place in front of Saint Vitus’ statue during the feast of Saint Vitus in Germanic and Latvian cultures.
There was also a dancing mania, or plague, that broke out in several places in Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries. One of the biggest outbreaks occurred in July 1518, in Strasbourg. The symptoms of this plague involved groups of people dancing erratically, sometimes thousands at a time. The mania affected men, women, and children, who danced until they collapsed from exhaustion. Many theories believe these dancing plague outbreaks were a mass sociogenic illness, or collective delusions of a cohesive group of people. Freaky, huh?
St. Vitus Dancers, the Kansas City renaissance dance troupe
Religion was an important piece of renaissance culture, and deeply ingrained in society of the 1500s. Naming our troupe after a saint makes perfect sense when trying to portray villagers of a religious society, and who better to represent us than the patron saint of dancing? But there is also some humor if you think about our name in reference to the Saint Vitus Dance disorder – perhaps the dancing villagers our performers portray are merely infected and can’t control their movements!
And why do we use the abbreviation of St. instead of Saint? Mostly, because it separates us out from other groups that may be named after the saint. Also, it shortens the name which makes it easier to use on signs and other displays.
Humorous or reverent, we hope our name will grace us for many years to come.
- Wikipedia contributors, “Dancing Mania” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2015-03-13.
- Wikipedia contributors, “Sydenham’s Chorea” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2015-03-13.
- Wikipedia contributors, “Vitus” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2015-03-13.