LONDON // Bob Hope once explained: "I grew up with six brothers. That's how I learned to dance - waiting for the bathroom." And that, unfortunately, is how too many of us males seem to learn. Did you ever see footballer Peter Crouch's cringe-inducing attempt at robotic dancing after scoring for England? Or Ricky Gervais's performance in The Office? Or, indeed, your dad's gyrations at the last family wedding?
Now, though, university researchers in Britain are claiming that women can be powerfully attracted to a man who knows how to skip the light fantastic. More than that, psychologists at Northumbria University say that, for the first time, their research has established what moves make men good or bad dancers in the eyes of the opposite sex. And it seems from the report in this week's Royal Society journal, Biology Letters, the ability of a male to make exaggerated and varied movements with his neck and torso on the dance floor (think John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever) are the main ingredients for attracting the ladies.
Oddly, perhaps, the speed of movement of a man's right knee and his left shoulder were also found to have a lot of sex appeal. Nick Neave, who headed the research project, said: "We thought that people's arms and legs would be really important. The kind of expressive gestures the hands make, for example. But in fact this was not the case. "We found that women paid more attention to the core body region: the torso, the neck, the head. It was not just the speed of the movements, it was also the variability of the movement. So someone who is twisting, bending, moving, nodding."
Mr Neave conducted the research by getting a group of 19 young men, who were not professional dancers, to dance in a laboratory to a very basic drum rhythm and filmed their movements with a dozen 3D cameras. The dancing was then converted into computer-generated cartoon figures - avatars - to prevent a 35-strong female panel from being influenced by the physical appearances of the dancers. Each performance was then rated by the women on a scale of one to seven and the results showed that eight variables, including that all-important right knee movement, influenced the panel's perceptions.
Mr Neave said he believes that the various dance movements not only indicated to the women which partners might be the least embarrassing at a disco but, more importantly, indicated a man's reproductive qualities in terms of health, vigour or strength. "This is the first study to show objectively what differentiates a good dancer from a bad one," he said. "Men all over the world will be interested to know what moves they can throw to attract women.
"If a man knows what the key moves are, he can get some training and improve his chances of attracting a female through his dance style." Researcher Kristofor McCarty added: "Our results clearly show there seems to be a strong general consensus as to what is seen as a good and bad dance, and that women appear to like and look for the same sort of moves." firstname.lastname@example.org