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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 December 2005, 00:44 GMT
Why good dancers are attractive
Colin Jackson and Erin Boag on the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing
Symmetry appears to be a boon on the dance-floor
Someone who can cut a dash on the dance-floor has always been seen as a good catch, but scientists have now explained why.

It appears people who boogie better tend to be more symmetrical - which is something people look for in a mate.

Researchers from Rutgers University used motion-capture cameras to record dancers' moves, but not their looks.

The study, in Nature, shows that the most symmetrical movers were considered to be the best dancers.

Seeing if someone is a good dancer is a good way to judge if they have 'promise' as a mate
Dr George Fieldman, psychologist

It was Charles Darwin who first suggested dance was part of courtship rituals, something confirmed in nightclubs every weekend.

The US team studied 183 dancers in Jamaica.

Each person danced along to the same song on the same spot, in front of the same film crew for one minute.

Videos of the 20 "best" and 20 "worst" dancers were selected, based on their body symmetry - measured by comparing certain points on the body, such as elbows, fingers and ears.

The motion-capture videos - which show movement but not facial appearance or body images - were then shown to 155 people.

Symmetrical dancers were rated more positively than non-symmetrical ones, especially by women.

'Intuitive sense'

Writing in Nature, the researchers led by Dr William Brown suggest the greater emphasis placed on symmetry by women bore out the theory that women, who usually bear the majority of the childcare burden, are more choosy when selecting a mate.

They said it was not clear whether it was the degree of symmetry itself, or an associated characteristic such as co-ordination, or the abilities needed to perform a complicated dance move - or better rhythm, was the key.

They add: "Does dance ability correlate with reproductive success? We plan to address this question with long-term data from the same study population."

Dr George Fieldman, a psychologist at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College who specialises in research into sexual attraction, said: "It's certainly true that people look for symmetry in a mate.

"If you are symmetrical, it means you have the genes that control that, and that nothing has happened to affect that from conception to adulthood.

"Someone who is symmetrical would be able to do things like run faster, so choosing someone symmetrical would mean someone would be able to defend better and get prey better."

He added: "This study's findings make intuitive sense. Seeing if someone is a good dancer is a good way to judge if they have 'promise' as a mate."

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16 Dec 98 |  Health

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