Scientists Study What Makes A Man A Good Dancer

Evolutionary psychologist Nick Neave filmed men dancing, converted the videos into dancing avatars and asked women to rate the avatars' dancing ability. The researchers found that the highly rated male dancers had some moves in common. Some advice: Shake that right knee.

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IRA FLATOW, host:

Up now: Flora Lichtman. Hi.

FLORA LICHTMAN: Hi, Ira.

FLATOW: Our digital media editor. She's here with our crazy dance number today.

LICHTMAN: Yeah.

FLATOW: Dancing - not "Dancing with the Stars" on this one.

LICHTMAN: No, dancing with the scientists.

FLATOW: There you go.

LICHTMAN: No, it's a continuing - it's the next chapter in our continuing coverage of science of dancing. We started with the bird. Remember Snowball?

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: Then we went - had the babies.

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: And now we're on to what makes a man a good dancer.

FLATOW: And it's our Video Pick of the Week up on our website at sciencefriday.com. What makes a man a good - the science answer to this?

LICHTMAN: Apparently, there's a scientific answer. Anyway, this is what an evolutionary psychologist - his name is Nick Neave - was trying to figure out. So here's the setup. He had these guys dancing to kind of a basic beat. And he put reflective markers on them and then filmed them.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

LICHTMAN: And then he turned these dancing guys into little avatar videos, so that you couldn't see their faces or anything like that. And he showed a bunch of women all of these dancing avatars and asked the women to rate the dancers between good and bad. And you can see the sort of the best dancer and the worst dancer in the study - in the video on the website.

FLATOW: Elaine Benes wasn't in there.

LICHTMAN: You know, Ira, fast forward to this week - for me, it was getting to watch every funny YouTube video about - I think I watched...

FLATOW: You saw all the bad dancers in the world.

LICHTMAN: I watched the Elaine Benes clip, I would say, 15 times this week.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: But - so these - so they were able to judge what makes a good dancer, not a lame dancer, but a good one.

LICHTMAN: Right. Right. So they - the interesting thing is that they found certain moves that these good dancers shared. There were sort of statistically compelling moves that were - that seemed to be signals of good dancers, at least in the eyes of women. So guys, I mean, this really is - I think this is quintessential news you can use.

FLATOW: Well - and if you want to see what makes a good dancer - and it's Friday night, right - you can go to our website at sciencefriday.com. It's our Video Pick of the Week on the left. Did they do this for women? What makes a good female?

LICHTMAN: You know - I - the researchers said that a lot of people have been asking about this, but we'll have to stay tuned for that. That's sort of the next study. But I have to say that some of the moves - I think guys might be surprised with some of the moves, because they're very specific. And I'll just give you one.

FLATOW: Okay.

LICHTMAN: But I don't want to reveal the whole...

FLATOW: No, give us a top-rated one, yeah.

LICHTMAN: One of the top-rated moves was the speed of your right knee. That was - well, like, all the good dancers seem to be moving that right knee really fast.

FLATOW: And you went - in the video, you went to the Alvin Ailey dance company.

LICHTMAN: Right.

FLATOW: And you asked them what their thoughts on this. So they didn't quite get this right knee move, did they?

LICHTMAN: They were not so compelled by the right knee as being the key to good dancing, as you might expect.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LICHTMAN: These are people who would spend their lives - their passion is understanding what makes a good dancer. But they had some sort of interesting insights into - Tracy Inman, who's the co-director of the Ailey School, had some interesting insights into what maybe these results were all about. So, you know, it was good to bounce the ideas off of him.

FLATOW: All right. Thank you, Flora. If you want some - so if you want some quick tips for tonight's dancing, you're going out clubbing tonight and you want to find out the top reasons - the top attractiveness of male dancers and what they should do, right...

LICHTMAN: Mm-hmm.

FLATOW: ...what best moves you should make - at least scientifically, from that point of view - go to our website at sciencefriday.com. It's our Video Pick of the Week. You can take it with you on your iPhone or watch it there online. And Flora?

LICHTMAN: Do some field testing and let us know...

FLATOW: Yeah.

LICHTMAN: ...what you think - if it works for you tonight.

FLATOW: And we'll be - we'll continue with our theme, somehow, of dancing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LICHTMAN: Yes.

FLATOW: Finding other dancing themes for SCIENCE FRIDAY. Flora Lichtman, our Video Pick of the Week. Thank you, Flora.

LICHTMAN: Thanks, Ira.

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