Can't Get A Date? Maybe It's Your Dance Moves

According to a recent study, the best way to woo a woman might just be to take her out onto the dance floor. But once the music starts, some men find themselves musically and emotionally offbeat, which can be interpreted by women as a lack of strength and confidence. Host Michel Martin speaks with Dr. Nick Neave, a psychologist at England's Northumbria University, which commissioned the study. He explains the findings and tells listeners how they can step up their moves.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

We turn now from the runway to the dance floor.

(Soundbite of song, "Everybody Dance Now")

C + C MUSIC FACTORY (Music Group): (Singing) Everybody dance now.

MARTIN: There us important news for men who cannot figure out why their moves on the dance floor are not attracting fabulous women. Now, you might remember Will Smith in the movie "Hitch," the dating doctor. Here he is watching actor Kevin James demonstrating his nightclub dance routine, which includes Start the Fire, The Q-tip, and Making the Pizza.

(Soundbite of movie, "Hitch")

Mr. WILL SMITH (Actor): (as Hitch) Dont ever do that again. Do you hear me?

Mr. KEVIN JAMES (Actor): (as Albert Brennaman) Just expressing myself.

Mr. SMITH: (as Hitch) No. No. Uh-uh. Not like that youre not.

MARTIN: Now, it turns out that the Will Smith character, Hitch, was on to something. There is a scientific means of telling good dancing from bad, or rather, dancing that works to lure the ladies versus the kind that will leave you, well, dancing with yourself. A study out of England's Northumbria University lays it out there with research and even video demonstrations of the best and worst dancing styles. We'll have that on our website.

But with us now to talk about the research is Nick Neave. He's a psychologist and senior lecturer at Northumbria and he joins us from the studios on campus. He co-authored the article "Male Dance Moves that Catch a Woman's Eye" in the magazine the Royal Society Journal of Biology Letters.

And welcome and thank you so much for joining us.

Dr. NICK NEAVE (Northumbria University): Hello. It's a pleasure.

MARTIN: What a relief. I won't mention the names of those with whom I'll be sharing this information. But I am curious to know, what launched you on this line of inquiry?

Dr. NEAVE: Well, I guess it was birds, really. Across the animal kingdom, males dance to impress the ladies. In the bird kingdom, this is, you know, paramount. Male birds perform a whole host of very energetic courtship dances. We see the same kind of thing in lizards and in crabs and a whole host of species. And we were interested to see if the same kinds of things were happening in humans.

So we got a bunch of guys - 19 young lads - asked them to dance in front of this very fancy video camera system that we have. We cover them in little reflective markers that we place on the joints of their body, they dance in front of the camera, we transform them into avatars - computer-generated figures that females watch - and they tell us on a score of one to seven whether this guy is a good dancer or a bad dancer. And when we've got their ratings, we did indeed find that there were some guys who were rated very strongly and some guys that were not given many marks at all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. NEAVE: Which is sad for the guys. But what we were then able to do...

MARTIN: Well, their identities were disguised, you know, to protect the innocent, as it were.

Dr. NEAVE: They were anonymous and they shall forever remain anonymous.

MARTIN: Well, let's cut to the chase. What works to, as your article suggests, catch a woman's eye?

Dr. NEAVE: Yes. What we found was, it was quite a surprise, we kind of thought that legs and arms would be very important. They werent. What we found was that the movements of the head and the neck and the upper body, the torso, these were very, very important. And our guys who were rated as good dancers, their movements were bigger, but I think more importantly, they were making variable movements.

So you'll see on the avatar that the dancer who's, you know, thought of as being a good dancer, he's moving around a lot, he's making big bold movements with his head, his neck and his upper body, and this is variable. It's - he's not making the same movements over and over again and repeating himself. He's making lots of different moves. And if you compare him with the bad dancer -you'll see his avatar as well - you can see that the bad dancers are very wooden, they make the same kinds of small repetitive movements over and over again, they show no flair or creativity. And that certainly seems to be the difference.

MARTIN: Why did you think that the legs would be more important - that the total body would be more important than it seemed to be?

Dr. NEAVE: Well, it kind of seemed obvious that legs would be important, you know, that - and in fact we did find one odd thing, that the right knee, the speed of the right knee movements were very important. We think this is because most men are right-footed and so they put their weight on their left leg, and that's used as a kind of a balance and a prop, and then the right leg kind of does all the fancy moves.

We thought that arms would be important and the kind of gestures that people might make, waving their arms around, this didnt seem to make much difference. It's specifically the flexibility and the kind of variability of the movement of the head, the neck and the upper body.

MARTIN: But why do you think that women are attracted to good dancers? And why do you think those moves are attractive?

Dr. NEAVE: Okay. Well, certainly in the animal kingdom, we know that females are attracted to males who perform very complicated, very demanding physical dances. And we think that these dances are signifying the health and the physical quality of the male. The male is essentially saying, look at me, I'm fit, I'm healthy, I'm active, I'm energetic, I'm flamboyant. These are all things that would make me a good mate.

And we think that the same kinds of things are happening in the human dancers. To be a good dancer, you have to be strong, you have to be flexible, you have to be fit, you have to be healthy, you have to, you know, be the person that's kind of showing off yourself. All of these things we think are signaling to women, hey, I'm a good mate.

MARTIN: I wonder if you could achieve the same thing by building shelves.

Dr. NEAVE: Possibly...

MARTIN: That always worked for me. I hate to be honest with you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Dont think it would work as well?

Dr. NEAVE: Well, you know, again, across animal kingdom, some male animals have to perform tasks. The bowerbird, for example, the female stands around and watches the male build this fabulous nest that's completely useless. It's just showy and flashy and he collects all brightly colored things. And again, he's proving to the female that he's working for her and for their future family, he's dedicated, he's loyal, he's hardworking. You know, some females like to watch their males washing cars, putting shelves up, you know, building beds and cabinets. Again, its a good, honest signal that the male is prepared to commit to a relationship.

MARTIN: And you know, I do have to ask, have you modified your own moves on the dance floor as a result of your study?

Dr. NEAVE: I'm afraid that I'm 46 now and I think my good dancing days are possibly over. But certainly for guys who can't dance, there is a message here: we know that the flexibility and the strength of the core body is important. So if a guy wants to improve that, he can do things like yoga classes, Pilates classes. He can take dance classes to give him some flexibility and flair and a bit of self-confidence, because that's mainly what it is, I think.

MARTIN: I cannot believe you think at 46 that your good dancing days are over. That can't be right.

Dr. NEAVE: Sad, but true. The knees have gone. The back's gone.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Now, finally, I hate to ask, but you know that there's a popular program here in the States by a performer called Ellen DeGeneres, who's a stand-up comic and talk show host.

Dr. NEAVE: Yes.

MARTIN: And one of her things is she likes for her guests to dance on her show.

Dr. NEAVE: Right.

MARTIN: And, you know, our president, when he was a candidate, did appear on the program. And I just can't help but ask if you saw his moves and what you thought?

Dr. NEAVE: I didnt. No. No. I didnt see that. He's a very brave man. I mean, he has daughters...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. NEAVE: ...and I have daughters, and if my daughter saw me dancing live on TV, she would die a thousand deaths. So he' a very, very brave man.

MARTIN: And so are you. Thank you for this work.

Dr. NEAVE: Thank you very much indeed.

MARTIN: What did your colleagues think about it, by they way?

Dr. NEAVE: They were very impressed. We all think it's a really great story. Weve only just started. I think weve taken the first scientific steps towards the understanding of the biology and the culture of dance. We have a lot of studies lined up to do, and of course we have to look at female dancing next as well. Many, many people have asked me about that. It's on our list. We need to a whole host of things before we can begin to answer some of the questions that you good people have been putting forward to us.

MARTIN: Nick Neave is a senior lecturer and psychologist at Northumbria University. He joined us from their studios there. He co-authored the article "Male Dance Moves That Catch a Woman's Eye." It's in the September 8th edition of the Royal Society Journal of Biology Letters. And you can see Nick Neave's examples of good dancing and bad dancing. Those of you who are out there on the dating scene, take note. Go to the programs menu npr.org and click on TELL ME MORE.

And Nick Neave, thank you so much.

Dr. NEAVE: Thank you very much.

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