Disco divas looking to tear up the dance floor should ditch the soft sway and plump for the hip-swing, leg moves and an arm waggle or two – according to psychologists.
The researchers used motion-capture technology to record the moves of women dancing to a drum beat, before turning them into featureless avatars and showing them to both men and women to rate.
The results, the team says, reveal the sort of shapes women should be throwing to win the admiration of others – suggesting that hip-swinging and keeping synchronised with the beat of the music both garnered the thumbs up.
“The other things were movements of the arms and thighs,” said Nick Neave, a psychologist from the University of Northumbria, who led the research published in the journal Scientific Reports. We actually found that the more asymmetric movements were better,” he added. The study also revealed that those deemed to be better dancers were better synchronised to the beat of the music.
The research follows a previous work by the team which looked into male dance, concluding that men who tilted and twisted their necks and torsos in a variety of moves were deemed by others to be good dancers. “We then went on to find that the stronger the male was, the better the dancer he was thought to be,” said Neave.
The new study, he adds, was designed to unpick whether there might similarly be more to female dance than meets the eye.
In total, 39 women aged between 18 and 30 were recorded dancing to a 125-beat-per-minute drum-based rhythm and turned into avatars to disguise their features and remove the possibility of judgements on how tall, attractive or well-dressed the individuals were. The 15 second-clips were then shown to 57 men and 143 women – all heterosexual and over the age of 18 – in an online study. The participants were then asked to rate the dancing on a scale of 1-7.
The results, say Neave, suggest that certain dance moves impressed both men and women. “They were in very strong agreement as to who made a better dancer,” he said. That, he adds, fits in with the idea that dancing is sending signals to both sexes. “Yes, [the women] are dancing to attract men but they are all dancing to show off to other women how good they are,” he said.
The preference for certain dance moves in women, says Neave, might offer clues to these potential mates, or competitors. “The way that you move is very crucially linked to your health, your hormonal status and your personality and also possibly things like intelligence and creativity,” he said. “You are seeing someone move and you are able to interpret an awful lot about that person from the way that they move.”
While the team have yet to decode the signals within female dance moves, the authors suggest the preference for hip-swing and arm movements might be down to them being perceived as distinctly feminine traits, while the throwing of asymmetric shapes could offer health clues. “We think what that is showing is that people have then got very good motor control,” he said. But don’t overdo it. While asymmetric thigh moves, arm gestures and hip swing were all given higher ratings, dancers attempting either a lot, or very few, thigh moves or asymmetrical arm gestures were deemed less accomplished that those who used them in moderation.
Although Neave admits that dance moves were different in the past – Jane Austen is unlikely to have thrown an impromptu thunder clap move during a country reel – he says the underlying conclusions of the research are widely applicable to music from many different cultures and eras. “We weren’t getting people dancing to music that they hated or that they really liked. We just wanted to see how they moved in time to the rhythm,” he said. “Whatever the music is, it doesn’t matter, if someone is keeping to a rhythm then that signifies a decent dancer.”
Not everyone is so convinced. “The dancers and people rating the dancing in this study were limited to one – Western – culture, and in other human societies men perform courtship dances – for example the Wodaabe people of Niger,” said Bronwyn Tarr, a dancer and researcher on dance and human evolution from the University of Oxford. “So what counts as attractive dancing will inevitably differ to some degree depending on cultural context.”
But, she added, the study ties into wider research delving into the role of dance in snagging a mate. “Studies like this help us build a more complete picture of how we, like many birds and other animals, can use dance to attract attention from the other sex,” she said. “Based on this Western study, those of us looking to up our dancing-game should remember: the hips don’t lie.”