MARCH 2006: Home arrow Briefings arrow Latest arrow Mating Dance: Study Says Humans May Pick Partners on Dancing Ability
Mating Dance: Study Says Humans May Pick Partners on Dancing Ability Print

Polyester aside, the disco dancers of the ’70s may have been on to something. According to a new study that used motion-capture technology, people appear able to pick genetically superior partners based on the way they dance.

Illustration by Lydia Hess.
Illustration by Lydia Hess.
The research, done jointly by computer scientists at the UW and anthropologists at Rutgers University, represents the first time scientists have been able to link skillful dancing to established measures of human desirability and attractiveness.

In conducting the study, researchers traveled to Southfield, Jamaica, where dance is culturally important to both sexes. That area also has a group of youths whose development has been tracked for body symmetry over the past decade. Evolutionary biologists have established close links between symmetry and such traits as longevity, strength and reproductive success.

The researchers analyzed 183 teenagers, attaching infrared markers at 41 body locations. They filmed each teen for one minute, dancing to the same popular song, with special cameras that tracked the markers to record in detail how the dancers moved.

Zoran Popovic, associate professor in the UW Department of Computer Science and Engineering, and his colleagues processed that raw data to create dancing animations that duplicated the movements of the dancers. They then asked teen peers to evaluate how well the computer-generated figures danced. The figures were the same size, but faceless and gender-neutral.

The study showed that the dancers who rated best tended to be those with greater body symmetry. And symmetry is correlated with better genes, Popovic says.

“This suggests a completely new way in which dance will be looked at and analyzed in the future,” says Popovic.