04/11/2014 10:40 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Digging the Dancing King

by guest blogger Renee James, essayist and blogger

I'm not a heterosexual man, but if I were, two of my heroes would be Nick Neave, Ph.D., and Kristofor McCarty, and my new favorite research facility would be the University of Northumbria. Neave and researcher McCarty, along with a few of their colleagues at University of Göttingen, investigated and answered an age-old question for men and women: What makes a man a good dancer? Furthermore, they tackled a second, more important question: Does a man's being a good dancer matter to women?

Now, for every man about to write this off as nonsense, please hang in there for a minute. The notion of dancing as it relates to couples and partnering is not entirely without merit. According to researchers J.L. Hanna and A.L. Kaeppler, dancing is an important aspect of sexuality and courtship in humans, based on a set of "intentional, rhythmic, culturally influenced non-verbal body movements." It has to count for something!

Still not enough for you? Let me paint a little picture here; then you decide whether or not you want to know the results of the research. Imagine you're in a club or, better still, at a wedding reception and the dancing has begun. Even if you're there with your wife or your date, take a look at the women sitting at the tables with their eyes on the dance floor. I guarantee you there's at least one man out there who has captivated every woman watching. He's comfortable and relaxed, completely in control of himself and his partner, and he's enjoying himself. As for his partner? She's in his arms, also relaxed and comfortable, being led around the floor with ease. Or perhaps she's dancing opposite him, a man who knows what he knows and moves like it, too.

Who doesn't want to be that guy?

According to the researchers, certain key areas of a man's body tell a woman whether he is a "good" or "bad" dancer. Using 3-D camera technology, researchers captured the dance movements of 19 male volunteers and replicated them on a feature-less human avatar. They showed the results to 35 heterosexual women and asked them to rate their movements.

So what did the study tell us?

Simply put, women seem to like a lot of movement in the neck and trunk, specifically "neck flexion/extension (head nodding), trunk flexion/extension (forward/backward bending) and trunk abduction/adduction (bending sideways)." Are you a bad dancer? You may be, especially if you keep your hands low and you don't move your arms, trunk, or head much. The study summary offers much more detail than this, and Neave is continuing his research beyond the dance floor. He hopes to learn whether or not these key dance movements also influence how a woman perceives a man's reproductive quality, his vigor, strength, and overall health.

As a side note, the researchers also found that men watch men dance, too, because they want to size them up in terms of competition for women. According to Neave, "Upper body strength is highly related to fighting ability as it reflects the ability to do damage, especially in intra-sexual conflicts. The ability to gauge strength before potential conflicts is sensible, especially to other males." Personally, this all sounds a little too caveman for me, but who can say? The subconscious is a very powerful place, and what man doesn't feel just a little tiny bit anxious when his partner dances with another man? C'mon, a little, right?

Look, I know not everyone is interested in dancing or yearns to be "good" at it. I also know not every good dancer is a good man. In fact, maybe "bad" dancers rely more on their wit, intellect, and charm to attract a woman. I'll grant you all of that if you'll grant me this: There are few things in the world that make a woman feel as singularly treasured as a good dance partner. And when that partner shares (with great love) all the mistakes, missteps, and wrong moves that happen in real life, far from the dance floor, without letting go. Well, that's even better.

Renee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and also wrote an award-winning op-ed column for The Morning Call, the Allentown, PA, newspaper, for almost 10 years. Her essays were included in the humor anthology, 101 Damnations: A Humorists' Tour of Personal Hells (Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. She invites you to Like her Facebook page, where she celebrates--and broods about--life on a regular basis, mostly as a voice in the crowd that shouts, "Really? You're kidding me, right?" (Or wants to, anyway), and welcomes your suggestions, comments, and feedback to the mix.

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