Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dance Dance Evolution

 Perhaps I should create a "Picture This" category/label for some of these stories because that's what I'm going to ask you to do once again. Ok, so picture this: You're a guy, you've gotten all gussied up (do guys 'gussie up'?), you get in your I'm-compensating-for-something-car, you drive to your local dance club, you grab a drink and check out all of the available singles mingling and flirting, you strut out to the dance floor to show off your moves and you choose....

(I suggest reading both options before clicking)

Dance Option 1: You have large, variable movements, keep your torso moving (bending forwards and/or backwards), make wide (but not flailing) gestures with your arms, nod your head while also turning it side to side (video demonstration)

Dance Option 2: Keep your movements relatively contained, move your torso but with no big bending movements, move your arms but keep them below the shoulder and closer to the body, move your head in subtle ways/directions rather than nodding (video demonstration)

Which style of dance do you chose? Which of these styles makes you more attractive to the ladies?

Based off a new study in the journal Biology Letters, I'm hoping you picked the first option. In this study, psychologists from Northumbria University have taken a look at what kinds of male dance moves catch the eyes of the ladies. They stuck 38 reflective markers to the joints and other body parts of volunteer male students, and they asked them to dance to a thumping drum beat for 30 seconds as if they were in a nightclub. Twelve video cameras recorded the dancing, and using 3D motion-capture technology, uniform avatar figures were created. Examples are the video links from above. Next, they had heterosexual women watch the avatar videos and rate them according to whether the man was a good dancer or a bad dancer (note that pilot studies showed that women equate good dancer to more attractive). Using the avatar videos and the ratings from the women, the researchers were able to identify the key movement areas of the dancers' bodies that influenced female perception.

What kinds of moves make you stand-out, or I guess dance-out, to the ladies? Moves very much like those from Dance Option 1. Eight movement variables made a difference when females rated men as either good or bad dancers: the size of movement of the neck, trunk, left shoulder and wrist, the variability of movement size of the neck, trunk and left wrist, and the speed of movement of the right knee (probably because most volunteers are right handed and movement is dominated on this side of the body). The movements that were perceived as best were those that were influenced most greatly by large and varied movements involving the neck and torso.

Is there an evolutionary explanation for this? Not a tested one that I know of, at least in humans. The authors suggest that human male movements may act as honest signals of traits such as health, fitness, genetic quality, and developmental history. I don't know. I'm not an archaeologist or anthropologist but I do know that dancing is not exactly a new human behavior. Perhaps in the past it acted as these subconscious signals while also very consciously showing strength, coordination, creativity, and hunting prowess. Too bad the dancing you see in clubs today doesn't tell you things like job security, family man abilities, degree of commitmentphobia, or his ability to put the toilet seat down after use. 'Course that might just be the jaded single part of me talking.

You can read the actual paper here:
Neave, Nick, et al. (2010) Male dance moves that catch a woman's eye. Biology Letters: published online. (DOI:

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