- The Dance of Death

The Dance of Death in Modern Popular Culture

Dance of Death in Popular Culture of Today

The Danse Macabre has long been a powerful cultural influence, and continues to inspire contemporary artists across various mediums. Here we explore the impact of the Dance of Death on popular culture, from music videos and TV shows to literature and video games. Discover how this haunting and timeless theme has continued to captivate and terrify audiences in the modern era.

Although the Dance of Death (Danse Macabre) reached its zenith as a cultural motif during the Middle Ages, its imagery and allegorical symbolism continues to exert an influence on modern pop culture and thought. Even today, musical works and graphic arts are produced which are either a re-imagining of the medieval drawings or at least allude to the allegory.

Here are some modern examples of the Dance of Death being used as a metaphor as well as direct reference:


  • The Dance of Death - a song and album title by Iron Maiden.

  • The Totentanz (Dance of Death in German) -- a symphonic piece composed by Franz Liszt

  • Danse Macabre (Dance of Death in French) -- by composer Camille Saint-Saens

  • Metaphor

  • As a metaphor to describe a destructive, doomed situation. For example, this article in Haaretz called Dance of Death: Palestinians and Israelis Are Locked in a Macabre Embrace

  • Books and Literature

  • The title of various unrelated plays: The Dance of Death, a set of two plays by Strindberg. The title refers to the miserable marriage of the main characters. And The Dance of Death, a play by W.H. Auden, published in 1933. Here the Dance of Death refers to the empty life of the (then) modern middle class, and which stifles and kills the soul of the individual.

  • A Poem by Goethe.

  • Dance Productions

  • It is fitting that the Dance of the Death should be the subject of various dance productions, which make direct and indirect allusions to the motif or are at least inspired by the danse macabre. Learn more about examples of the many ways in which the Danse Macabre has been adapted and reimagined for contemporary theatre and performance. Whether in traditional plays, experimental dance pieces, or multimedia spectacles, the Dance of Death continues to captivate and terrify audiences with its powerful themes of mortality and the inevitability of the grave.

  • Movies

  • The two different movies: A low budget Boris Karloff D Movie also known as House of Evil and a movie also titled Dance of Death, based on Strindberg's play and starring Lawrence Olivier.

Painting of a dance of death

As can be seen from these examples, the motif of the dance of death has become embedded in th culture. However the secularization of society means that the concept has lost much of its religious, allegorical meaning. In its place most allusions to it distort the original meaning and use the imagery it conveys in a different context. Instead of alluding to the transitory nature of life, it is now used more as a synonym for a deadly embrace or intertwined, destructive relationship.

On the other hand, the related concepts of the Grim Reaper, and of the Death and the Maiden remain essentially unaltered in modern culture, and quite popular. For example, the personification of Death as a hooded figure carrying a scythe is universally understood in Western culturea and conitues to feature in movies (for example the Scary Movie franchise). Similarly the concept of an attractive nubile woman becoming the romantic and also sinister target of death itself is repeated in numerous tv and movie tropes such as Meet Joe Black.

Updated: November 13, 2021

Hans Holbein

Hans Holbein

The Dance of Death

Meaning of the Dance of Death

The Dancing Mania

The Dancing Mania

Scene from the Dance of Death

Scene from the Danc of Death