Nine ladies dancing

What constitutes a "good" dance?
29 December 2016

Interview with 

Amy Thomas, science communicator


Psychologist Amy Thomas explains to Chris Smith why humans like to jive, and what constitutes a "good" dance with musical accompaniment from Hugh Hunt...

Everyone sings: on the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me nine ladies dancing, eight maids a milking, seven swans a swimming, six geese a laying, five gold rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Amy - There’s a few theories about this. One of the main ones is that dancing is a mate selection gesture. There’s been studies done on looking at the relationship between the symmetricality of one's body and their ability to dance. And what they found out was that people with symmetrical bodies are better dancers, quite substantially.

Chris - Why?

Amy - I think it’s because of the way you balance, and you can move, and you're more flexible, and it looks more aesthetically pleasing when your body is symmetrically. If your hands are exactly the same size and your legs are exactly the same size, it’s going to look better.

Chris - Are you going to show me what I need to do better then in order to impress this Christmas?

Amy - Yes. I’ve got a little experiment to do to show you how to improve your dance skills.

Chris - What have you got in mind?

Amy - I’m going to stand up and do one dance, which is a bad unattractive dance. And then I’m going to do one dance which is an attractive dance and you’re going to tell me which one’s which.

Chris - Now I happen to know that Hugh Hunt is a very good human beat box so we’re going to get him to do the musical accompaniment for you Amy. so if you’d like to take to the dance floor, which is this patch of carpet behind my chair. So we're not going to know what order these dances are coming in. They could be the unattractive or the attractive one so could we just cue the music please Hugh. If you could kick us off with a little rhythm..  A bit more invigorating than that.

Hugh - Bum bum bum, ber dum dum  dum ber dum.

Chris: - We’ve got a bit of hip swaying action happening. The arms are outstretched like a Jesus Christ posture with fingers extended and palms out. So I’m seeing palms being presented to me and she’s looking straight out surveying the vista. Okay, is that dance one?  We need a different tune for dance two.

Hugh - do do do dodo do do do.

Chris - Okay so this is a very vigorous dance. There’s a lot of shoulder action happening here and sort of twisting of hips and arms are moving around. It’s not symmetrical at all. Okay, thank you very much. Very hard for you at home to picture what Amy was doing in dance two. It was quite hard for me to picture was Amy was doing in dance two. Alan, what was your observation?

Alan - Well, Amy was wearing a full length chiffon lab coat, brilliantly decorated with forty thousand sequins sewn on by her mum.

Chris - Is this a nod to the good old days of sexist British television?! What did everyone think then? What did we think about the attractiveness of the two dances? Graihagh - what is your instinct telling you?

Graihagh - Well, the first one was definitely more controlled I would say, and the second one was a bit more sort of loose, wasn’t it. And you’re smiling much more in it which makes it kind of more attractive to me because you're laughing, you’re smiling.

Chris - So your money’s on number two?

Graihagh - I’m going for number two.

Chris - Hugh…

Hugh - Arms higher up above the shoulders as opposed to arms lower down. So the second one had more arms up than arms down.

Chris - James - your thoughts for the judging on that side of the…?

James - It’s weird because the first one was a lot more symmetrical but it just felt a lot more robotic. We were just saying that symmetry is kind of attractive but, at the same time, it didn’t feel like I was enjoying it as much as…

Chris - So Amy, put us out of our misery. Of the two dances, which one was ostensibly the attractive dance and what are the go to points for people to bear in mind on the dance floor this Christmas at the office party?

Amy - I can safely say that you guys were correct. The second one was supposed to be the attractive dance and I’m happy that that worked. And it’s interesting because they have actually pinpointed it to specific movements in the body.

There was an experiment done a few years ago looking at particular movements of the body and they rated the attractiveness of the dance, and these were variation around the central region of your body, so if you’re doing isolations to the rib cage, that kind of thing. Quicker foot pace as well. So you notice in the second one I was speeding my feet up.

Chris - You did have to compete with the music a bit, but…

Amy - Yeah, I know. It was hard.

Chris - You did well under the circumstances.

Right so you’ve got have movement around the ribcage, move your limbs, feet..

Amy - Feet quicker.

Chris - Hands?

Amy - Hands - what you want to do is get variation in your dance moves. So as James said about the first one being a bit symmetrical, a bit boring, that has been scientifically proven in that you have to have variation in your dancing otherwise it’s not attractive and it’s boring.


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