What's seemingly obvious in everyday life, however, has not always been rigorously verified by science. Now, a study by scientists at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, for the first time links dancing ability to established measures of mate quality in humans.
Reporting in Thursday's edition of the British science journal Nature, Rutgers anthropologists collaborating with University of Washington computer scientists describe how they created computer-animated figures that duplicated the movements of 183 Jamaican teenagers dancing to popular music. The researchers then asked peers of the dancers to evaluate the dancing ability of these animated figures. The figures were gender-neutral, faceless and the same size all to keep evaluators from boosting or dropping dancers' scores based on considerations other than dance moves.
The researchers also evaluated each dancer for body symmetry, an accepted indicator in most animal species including humans of how well an organism develops despite problems it encounters as it matures. Symmetry, and its association with attractiveness, therefore indicates an organism's underlying quality as a potential mate. The study showed that higher-rated dancers were typically people with greater body symmetry.
"At least since Darwin, scientists have suspected that dance so often plays a role in courtship because dance quality tracks with mate quality," said Lee Cronk, associate professor of anthropology. "But this has been hard to study because of the difficulty of isolating dance movements from variables, such as attractiveness, clothing and body features. By using motion-capture technology commonly employed in medical and sports science to isolate dance movements, we can confidently peg dancing ability to desirability."