It’s a common scenario. You’re at a wedding reception, the speeches are over, and a DJ starts doing his thing in the corner of the room, obscured behind a wall of tacky disco lights.
Before long, the complimentary champagne begins to work its magic on the revellers. A mildly inebriated Auntie Valerie is the first to wander onto the dancefloor, deciding that a slightly dented reputation is a small price to pay for having a good time. Uncle Bob is next to follow, loosening his tie and rolling up his sleeves as soon as he hears the opening strains of “Y.M.C.A.”.
Meanwhile, the best man – let’s call him Dave – has his eye on one of the bridesmaids, Emily. Hugging his warm pint of Carlsberg, Dave watches Emily as she glides across the dancefloor like a swan on roller skates. Feeling ever more tipsy, he puts down his beer and shuffles towards her.
Suddenly, “Y.M.C.A.” gives way to the drum/bass intro of “Billie Jean”. Dave spots his chance. Moving deftly through the throng of exhausted dancers, he positions himself opposite Emily and begins to engage in a mating ritual worthy of any bird of paradise. Completely oblivious to the onlooking crowd, Dave bends his torso from side to side like a man possessed, simultaneously shaking his head to the beat whilst performing an elaborate twisting routine with his right knee.
The ritual seems to have worked: 30 minutes later both he and Emily are locked in a romantic embrace, gently swaying to “Lady in Red” amidst a sea of teary-eyed couples.
Dave’s secret? He’s familiar with a recent article in Biology Letters which shows that certain dance moves are more likely to ignite the passions of a woman.
Nick Neave and colleagues at Northumbria University used motion-capture technology to record the movements of 19 men dancing to a basic drum beat. Each dancer was then mapped onto a computer-generated avatar, and 37 heterosexual women were asked to rate the avatars on their dancing prowess.
By correlating the women’s ratings with the avatars’ movements, the scientists were able to come up with a recipe for successful boogieing. The three factors that most contributed to high dance scores were ‘neck internal/external rotation variability’ (head shaking), ‘trunk adduction/abduction variability’ (sideways bending) and ‘right knee internal/external rotation speed’ (twisting speed).
These movements, claims the study, may provide signals of a man’s suitability as a sexual partner by indicating his physical strength, health or genetic quality.
According to Neave et al., dance in humans “…is a set of intentional, rhythmic, culturally influenced, non-verbal body movements that are considered to be an important aspect of sexuality and courtship attraction”.
This links us to, amongst other animals, Pronghorn mammals, hummingbirds, and fiddler crabs, all of whom perform courtship displays in order to entice prospective partners.
Neave N, McCarty K, Freynik J, Caplan N, Hönekopp J, & Fink B (2011). Male dance moves that catch a woman’s eye. Biology letters, 7 (2), 221-4 PMID: 20826469