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Dancing advertises sexual quality

December 21, 2005 By Michael Hopkin This article courtesy of Nature News.

Study of Jamaicans shows symmetrical dancers shake it better.

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Women love a guy who can dance, right? Well, a study using Jamaican volunteers might explain why. The results suggest that men who are better at busting a move also have more to offer as a mate.

Researchers led by William Brown of Rutgers University in New Jersey filmed more than 180 teenagers shaking it down, and converted the films into computer-animated, androgynous dancing figures. When shown the animated dancers, viewers gave higher ratings to dances performed by people who in reality had more symmetrical bodies and were generally more attractive.

The effect was stronger for women watching male dances than for men watching women. And the dances performed by men scored more highly overall than those by women, Brown and his colleagues report in Nature1.

An initial surprise was that males were better dancers than females overall. But in retrospect we should have predicted this.
William Brown
Rutgers University
"An initial surprise was that males were better dancers than females overall. But in retrospect we should have predicted this," says Brown. Because females generally shoulder a greater burden in reproduction, it is understandable that women should be more choosy when picking a partner, he says. Men might therefore be under more pressure to perform on the dance floor.

Mirror moves

A high degree of symmetry, such as having similarly sized ankles and evenly levelled ears, is generally thought to be related to someone's overall genetic quality, because it reflects trouble-free development in the womb. Previous studies have shown that symmetrical people are generally rated as being more attractive.

Dancing may be a way to advertise body symmetry, Brown's team suggests. This might explain why dancing is such a common feature of courtship rituals the world over, and why more symmetrical people are sexier dancers.

That said, it's not clear exactly how the most symmetrical people become adept at dancing, Brown says. Perhaps greater symmetry allows better coordination and thus more dazzling moves. Or maybe more attractive people are simply less likely to be shy when hitting the dance floor, meaning they become more practised at social dancing.

But even when the researchers controlled for self-esteem and facial attractiveness, there was still a strong association between body symmetry and dance ability. So maybe the old adage is true: some people are just born with rhythm.


  1. Brown W. M., et al. Nature, 438. 1148 - 1150 (2005).


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