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Apparently Wallflowers Will Not Pollinate

It takes two to tango, but do it poorly and you end up dancing with yourself.

Birds do it. Bees do it. Even hardcore video gamers do it.

Dance. We're talking about dance here, people.

From the tribal lands of Africa, to the court of Louis the XIV, to the stage of FOX's So You Think You Can Dance, dance has been a pervasive part of human's history and culture. Today, if you're a male of our species and dance well, you'll garner the adoration of the ladies. But dance like you've got two left feet, and you'll have to find another way to impress the masses.

But why? Well, according to research published recently in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, the more women hold a man's dancing ability in high esteem, the stronger and better quality mate he's likely to be.

In the study, researchers recruited 40 college-aged, Caucasian men to perform two types of tasks: a test of strength and a display of dancing ability. First, using an instrument called a handheld dynamometer, the scientists obtained standardized measurements of the men's handgrip strength (a heritable indication of overall muscle functioning). Then after asking each individual to dress in white jumpsuits (à la Ghostbusters), the University of Göttingen's Bernhard Fink and the team recorded video clips of each man dancing to drum beat.

The video clips — blurred to hide physical features like the men's faces — were then shown to 50 college-aged women. Half of the women rated each man's moves on attractiveness, while the rest rated them on assertiveness.

Analysis of the data revealed that the physically stronger men were perceived by the women as more attractive and more assertive. The association was statistically significant even after weight of the man was taken into account (unlike age and height, the men's weight was the only measured factor associated with their handgrip strength).

The researchers credit testosterone and women's tendency to select for physically fit and competitive men in explaining the study's results. Past research has shown that testosterone levels, particularly prenatal testosterone levels that are genetically based, are associated with physical strength, coordination and even dancing ability. As our species evolved therefore, said the researchers, women developed preferences not only for particular physical characteristics but also movement abilities as indications of high-quality partners.

"Muscular strength together with agility, balance and flexibility are positively associated with dance performance," the authors wrote in the study, "Given that [testosterone] seems to play a central role of physical performance and muscle strength in men, we argue that women may have evolved visual preferences to the assessment of certain face and body features, but also dances in men, as these features may facilitate sexual selection of competitive, high-quality mates"

Of course, like many aspects of dating, good moves don't necessarily mean women will take to a particular "mating dance," said the researchers.

"Dancing is highly dependent upon musical likeability and interpretation, and as music ability has been linked to prenatal [testosterone], it is clear that such factors may influence both the expression of a dance movement and the perception of it."

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