Science can make you a better dancer - or at least improve your chances of not looking stupid to the opposite sex, say a group of evolutionary psychologists who used 3D motion-capture technology to create uniform avatar figures and identified the key movement areas of the male dancer’s body that influence female perceptions of whether their dance skills are “good” or “bad”. 

Apparently it all comes down to 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.

Sounds simple, right?  Read on.

The research was led by Dr. Nick Neave and grad student Kristofor McCarty at Northumbria University and they say it has identified potential biomechanical differences between “good” and “bad” male dancers.   Neave believes that such dance movements may form honest signals of a man’s reproductive quality, in terms of health, v
igor or strength (see 2009's 'Men’s physical strength is associated with women’s perceptions of their dancing ability' by Hugill, N., Fink, B., Neave, N.,&Seydel, H. in Personality and Individual Differences, 47: 527-530) and will carry out further research to fully grasp the implications. 

Good dancing.   Hey, it's the Running Man. Old School!   Credit: Northumbria University

They filmed 19 male volunteers aged 18-35 with a 3-D camera system as they danced to a basic rhythm.  Their real-life movements were mapped onto feature-less, white, gender-neutral humanoid characters, or avatars, so that 35 heterosexual women could rate their dance moves without being prejudiced by each male’s individual level of physical attractiveness. 

Edit Sept. 10: On Ira Flatow's Science Friday today, the more elaborately-produced version above.   Not being a non-profit is the worst mistake we could have made.  Imagine the production values we could have on this site with government funding!

The results showed those eight movement variables made the difference between a “good” and a “bad” dancer.   Female perceptions of good dance quality were influenced most greatly by large and varied movements involving the neck and trunk. 

Bad dancing.   Hey, this is a Cabbage Patch-free site.   Credit: Northumbria University

Neave said,  “This is the first study to show objectively what differentiates a good dancer from a bad one. Men all over the world will be interested to know what moves they can throw to attract women.   We now know which area of the body females are looking at when they are making a judgement about male dance attractiveness. If a man knows what the key moves are, he can get some training and improve his chances of attracting a female through his dance style.” 

Kristofor McCarty said, “The methods we have used here have allowed us to make some preliminary predictions as to why dance has evolved. Our results clearly show that there seems to be a strong general consensus as to what is seen as a good and bad dance, and that women appear to like and look for the same sort of moves.  From this, we predict that those observations have underlying traits associated with them but further research must be conducted to support such claims.”

If you're not a dancer, Neave is also Module Tutor for ‘Parapsychology’, ‘Evolutionary Psychology’, and ‘Hormones&Behaviour’ courses.   McCarty is investigating the role of testosterone in the home advantage in soccer.   Other researchers were Drs. Nick Caplan,  Johannes Hönekopp, Jeanette Freynik and Bernhard Fink, from the University of Goettingen.

Citation: Nick Neave1, Kristofor McCarty, Jeanette Freynik, Nicholas Caplan, Johannes Hönekopp,  Bernhard Fink, 'Male dance moves that catch a woman's eye', Biology LettersPublished online before print September 8, 2010, doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2010.0619

Edit Sept. 9:
Don't believe it works?  On YouTube, a user named girlmeetsbike mapped the movements and re-choreographed Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance".   Tell us you wouldn't be impressed by this guy if you saw him on a dance floor.