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Twerk it with science! Researchers discover the best way to bust a move

Why it matters to you

Psychologists in the U.K. have published their second paper on which dance moves are alluring to potential partners. Start taking notes!

It’s a thing feared by anyone who has ever stood awkwardly to the side of a wedding dance floor, pretending to be fascinated by the cheese platter: scientists are coming up with objective measures for the attractiveness of our dance moves.

In a new paper published in Scientific Reports, psychologists at Northumbria University in the U.K. reveal the most alluring dance moves for females. The work builds on a previous study, in which they did the same thing for males.

For the latest paper, 39 female college students danced to a pop song, while kitted out with motion capture sensors. Their moves were then scanned into a computer, mapped onto a featureless avatar (so as to remove details which could affect the study’s outcome) and ranked by participants — with the findings then turned over to a biomechanists and statisticians to analyze.

In the previous male-centric study, high quality male dance was found to be signified by larger and more variable movements of the upper body, which the researchers concluded was an indicator of male strength. “One of the things we drew from that paper was that when males dance they’re not necessarily signalling to females, so much as they are signalling their dominance, strength, and masculinity to other males,” study co-author Dr. Nick Neave told Digital Trends. “That’s something that makes sense if you look at behavior in the animal kingdom.”

In the new female-centric study, good quality dancing was principally associated with hip swing, as well as asymmetric thigh movement and moderately asymmetrical arm movement.

“If you’re dancing and your arms are both doing exactly the same thing, that looks quite strange and robotic,” Neave continued. “The same is true if they’re completely divergent and you’re swinging them around wildly. There’s an optimal level in the difference of movement between the two arms and two legs. That seems to indicate high quality female dance.”

Here, for your interest, is a highly-rated female dance performance:

And here’s a less appreciated one:

But while Neave and his colleagues continue to speculate about what all of this means from a genetic point of view, he noted that the work does have some practical applications. One possible use-case (as unlikely as it may sound) is using this typed of research, in conjunction with other data sets, to help predict certain physical traits.

Neave said that the team has been working to cross-reference footage of males walking with information about their aggression, frustration tolerance, and testosterone levels to see if a neural network could potentially pick out troublemakers based on the way — to quote Saturday Night Fever — they use their walk.

“We think there could be a 70 percent chance of being able to do this,” he noted, saying that security CCTV cameras could be given this information.

So does this mean future revellers could one day be pulled off the dance floor because their moves are correlated with those of previously rowdy individuals?

“I think there’s a more serious side to it,” Neave said. “The dancing research is fun and lighthearted. What it’s done is to give us the methodology that we can now take forward to apply to more serious research.”

Personally, we’d just be happy with a wearable device that alerts us when we’re embarrassing ourselves on the dance floor! There’s got to be a Kickstarter project in there somewhere…