Dancing, Body Symmetry: Courtship Aid?

Study Explores Links Between Body Symmetry, Dancing Skills, and Mate Selection

Dec. 21, 2005 -- Guys, are you good dancers? Your superior moves may indicate greater body symmetry -- a factor in mate selection.

"Dancing is believed to be important in the courtship of a variety of species, including humans," writes researcher William M. Brown, PhD, an anthropologist with Rutgers University. His paper appears in the latest issue of the journal Nature.

Mating studies revealed that women seek out males with bodily symmetry, he explains. If the potential mate has a great degree of asymmetry, he or she is judged to be less than optimal. In numerous species, asymmetry is linked to greater rates of disease and early death, and lesser success in fertility -- all important to their selection as mates.

A guy's or girl's symmetry (or lack of it) affects their attractiveness in other ways, too - like odor, voice, and facial appearance, Brown notes.

Brown explains that in species where fathers invest less time than do mothers in the offspring, females are expected to be more selective in mate choice -- and males to invest more in courtship display. Thus, females would be the judge of a male's symmetry (and mating potential) -- as told in his dancing ability, Brown theorized.

Women Prefer Good Dancers

Earlier efforts to study dance quality and symmetry in human courtship have been complicated by factors such as clothing and physical appearance, notes Brown. To overcome these obstacles, he used motion-capture technology (commonly used in medical and sports studies) to separate the dance motion from the dancer's appearance.

In his study, Brown captured dance motions of 183 human dancers in Southfield, Jamaica. Each male and female danced alone for one minute. Dancers ranged in age from 14 to 19.

Forty dance animations were chosen based on body asymmetry. Those individuals in the top third in asymmetry were categorized as "asymmetrical" while those at the bottom third were "symmetrical."

A separate group of 153 Jamaicans evaluated the dancers on a dance scale. All the dancers were unrecognizable because of the motion-capture technology. It was even difficult to determine whether the dancer was male or female, he notes.

Indeed, the study showed that symmetrical females and males were preferred. Symmetrical males were rated as better dancers compared with asymmetrical males. They were also rated as better dancers than the symmetrical females.

Women watching the recordings preferred the dances of symmetrical men. Likewise, men preferred dances performed by more symmetrical females -- although this was not a strong finding, which confirms the theory that women are more selective in choosing mates, he writes.

Why is symmetry so important? "We do not know," writes Brown. "Perhaps it indicates good coordination or good health, including freedom from parasites. Attractive dances may be more difficult to perform, more rhythmic, more energetic, more energy efficient, or any combination of these factors."

In future studies, he plans to investigate the link between dance ability and fertility.