Sept. 9, 2010— -- If men want to drive women wild on the dance floor, they can forget about those jazz hands or doing the robot.
"We found that [women paid more attention to] the core body region: the torso, the neck, the head -- so someone who is twisting, bending, moving, nodding," lead author Nick Neave, an evolutionary psychologist at Northumbria University in the United Kingdom, told BBCNews.com.
British and German researchers filmed 19 men aged 18 to 35 with multiple cameras and then turned that dancing into a gender-neutral computer animation avatar.
The dancing avatars, which showed no sign of the original age, height or attractiveness of the male volunteers, were evaluated as "good" or "bad" dancers by 37 heterosexual women.
Researchers found that women's perception of dance quality were influenced by large and varied movements of the neck and trunk and, oddly enough, speed of right knee movements. Preliminary results from blood work on the male dancers also suggested that those rated the better dancers were in better health than their less-coordinated peers.
But men shouldn't worry about perfecting their rhythmic head nods and knee bounces just yet, dance experts and evolutionary psychologists say. There's a lot more to attractive dancing than a few key body movements.
Age, dance confidence and level of self-esteem, as well as compatibility with dance styles all are more likely to influence how attractive any given woman might find you on the dance floor, said Peter Lovatt, a cognitive psychologist and ex-professional dancer at University of Hertfordshire in the U.K.
Given the limited sample size used in Neave's study, he warned against drawing to definitive conclusions about what makes a man a hotshot on the dance floor.
"There are no magic moves that are sexy to everyone," he said. "One woman might find you repulsive and another might find you attractive even if you're doing the same dance."
The Dance Laboratory -- Sex and Dancing
Past research showed that cultural background, body symmetry, and even fetal exposure to testosterone seemed to affect how well a guy's dancing was received by the ladies.
A 2007 German study showed that men whose dance movements were rated highest for dominance, masculinity and attractiveness were those who had had higher prenatal exposure to testosterone (estimated by finger length ratios).
A 2005 study out of Rutgers University found that bodily symmetry (a sign of genetic health and often beauty) also was a predictor of highly rated dancing among women.
The studies suggest that good dancing acts as an evolutionary cue for women, highlighting men who may be the attractive, dominant males of the group.
Similarly, researchers felt that the large torso and head movements perceived as attractive in Neave's study were a sign of a man's health, vigor and strength -- in short, his reproductive quality.
This "mating dance" explanation may oversimplify the matter, however, according to evolutionary psychologists.
More than cueing genetic superiority, "it's probably more important that dancing can easily display athleticism, confidence, and all sorts of other characteristics," said Maryanne Fisher, associate professor in psychology at Saint Mary's University, Canada.
Good dancers often are ones that are abiding by social conventions, such as dancing appropriately for the venue, and that would be a social cue, not necessarily a biological or genetic one, she said.
The relationship between dominance, symmetry and good dancing also could run both ways, Lovatt pointed out.
Lovatt and his colleagues have examined dancing behavior in more than 14,000 men and women of various ages, largely in the natural setting of a dance club.
Hope for the Hapless Dancers
A man who is naturally more muscular and symmetrical (something that often denotes general attractiveness) is going to be treated a certain way by the opposite sex and this could change how confidently he is when dancing. Confidence and enthusiasm alone can make a big difference in how attractive you look dancing, he said.
"Dancing is the ultimate social situation," Lovatt said.
Many evolutionary psychologists would agree. Dancing is an opportunity for two people to feel how attracted they are to each other and provides a venue for display of skill, coordination and, perhaps most important for intimacy, how well they can read nonverbal cues.
Anecdotally, women often report that men who they dance well with (note: not necessarily men who are the best dancers) end up being a good match for them in the bedroom, Lovatt said.
"Inasmuch as good sex means that the person has some degree of athleticism, rhythm, confidence and can read their partner's body language, [that is] all part of a good dancing," Fisher said, so good dancing might serve as a gauge for sexual prowess.
Considering many men are not keen on, or good at, tripping the light fantastic, where does this leave the lot of men who'd rather sit this one out?
Dancing may be one way that women find men attractive, but it certainly isn't the only way, experts note. So guys suffering from two left feet are not out of luck for love.
"Personally, I don't think there is such a thing as 'bad' dancers, Lovatt said. "There are people who have these blocks and can't express themselves naturally. They're self-conscious and this stops them from enjoying dancing."
Even so, it might not hurt to work on those dance moves, Fisher said.
"I've never heard a woman say, 'Oh, I wasn't into him because he was a good dancer,'" she said.