Psychologists reveal why you shouldn’t be afraid to let loose on the dancefloor

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Moya Crockett
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If you want to be queen of the dancefloor this weekend, you’d better swing your hips, move your feet, and wave your arms in the air like you just don’t care.

That’s the takeaway from new research from a team of British psychologists, who’ve just published their findings on what makes a woman a ‘good’ dancer.

Researchers used motion-capture technology to film various women bust a move to a Robbie Williams song (!). The footage of the women was then turned into faceless avatars to ensure it was only their dancing, rather than their appearance, that was being assessed, before being shown to men and women to rate.

The results of the study? Don’t hold back – but do try and keep in time with the rhythm.

Hip-swinging and keeping in time with the beat were deemed to be the most ‘impressive’ moves in the study, published in the journal Scientific Reports. Enthusiastic movement of the arms and thighs were also highly rated.

This video gives you an idea of what kind of dancing was perceived as impressive:

While staying synchronised with the music was deemed to be important, don’t worry too much about your coordination. Nick Neave, a psychologist from the University of Northumbria who led the research, tells the Guardian: “We actually found that the more asymmetric movements were better.”

‘Bad’ dancers, meanwhile, were seen as those who were out of time with the music, kept their arms close to their sides, and moved their feet timidly, as in the video below:

Thankfully, these findings are about more than just what kind of dancing straight men find sexy. The judging panel was made up of 200 heterosexual men and women, with significantly more women taking part than men.

Consequently, their answers tell us more about what women rate than what men think. (We await the results of a non-heteronormative study with bated breath.)

Nevertheless, the researchers suggest that the popularity of certain dance moves could still be traced back to good old evolution.

The ability to move your arms freely could indicate good motor control, they say – “so long as this limb independence does not verge into uncontrolled pathological movement”. (We’re choosing not to think about how much of our dancing at 2am on a Saturday night could be classified as “uncontrolled pathological movement”.)

Hip swinging, meanwhile, is an “emphatically feminine trait” that could be used as a display of fertility.

Importantly, these findings are unlikely to be universal. Firstly, because everyone has individual tastes (we guarantee there are people out there who find the ‘shopping trolley’ both hilarious and sexy) – but also because cultural differences play a major part in how we dance. The Sufi whirling dervishes of Istanbul, for example, might seem a bit out of place in a club in Skegness.

“Dance is strongly influenced by culture,” Neave tells Popular Science, “so there may be some cultural differences in specific movements or gestures.”

However, he says that people do generally tend to agree on who is a good and who is a bad dancer. “So the basic idea that dance moves are able to convey honest information about the reproductive qualities of the dancer in question appear sound.”

Ultimately, though, dancing is like exercise, fashion and beauty: go with what makes you feel good, not what you think other people will approve of. Because let’s face it, wondering whether your dance moves are making people think about your “reproductive qualities” is no way to live. 

Images: Rex, Getty