Sexual Politics of Dancing: The Secrets of Looking Good on the Dance Floor
Part 2: 'Women Don't Like It Small'
Lovatt's research is easy to grasp. Everyone can appreciate that women are not attracted to men who barely move and show little imagination when they dance. Lovatt knows this, and he knows how to sell his work. After all, as a professional dancer he learned how to entertain, and win over, an audience. He just had to learn to do the same thing verbally. Take, for example, his explanation of why women are not attracted to men with primitive moves: "Women simply don't like it small and simple."
In another study, Lovatt presented a variety of dance styles in a video shown on the BBC's website. First, he simply steps from left to right, moving his arms up and down. Then his side steps get wider and he raises his arms higher. After that, he keeps the size of the movements constant but changes the style, bending his arms, snapping his fingers before making circular movements with his arms. He finishes off by making uncoordinated floundering movements with his arms.
Viewers are asked to complete a questionnaire and decide which of the demonstrated styles was closest to their own dancing technique, in terms of size and complexity. In addition, participants were asked to rate their own dancing prowess compared to people of their sex and a similar age, ranging from "terrible" to "excellent."
The response was huge, with almost 14,000 people taking part. "Everybody thought that their dancing skills are better than average for their age," says Lovatt. Perhaps it's not surprising -- after all, who wants to admit to being a complete loser in the dancing department? But Lovatt also unearthed a less obvious finding, namely that satisfaction with one's own dance skills -- something he terms "dance confidence" -- developed differently in women and men over the course of their lives.
Dance as a Social Act
The largest degree of satisfaction can be found in girls under the age of 16. "They see dance as something fun, not as part of mating behavior," says Lovatt. That changes around the age of 16. "Between 16 and 20, dance confidence among girls falls markedly," says Lovatt. "Girls begin to see dance as a social act rather than a way of expressing themselves. They begin to worry about how they look and start searching for a boyfriend."
But once young women have come to terms with their lost dancing innocence, the satisfaction ratings start rising again. From the age of 20 onwards, their opinion of their own dance floor competence starts to improve and keeps increasing until the age of 35. After that it hits a plateau, however, as satisfaction levels stagnate. From 55 onwards, the value even drops. "That coincides with the menopause," says Lovatt. And it doesn't get any better: "Dance confidence remains low for the rest of a woman's life."
The pattern is somewhat different among men. Their dance confidence levels keep rising until the mid 30s. It then stagnates before starting to sink from the age of 55 onwards. But then, surprisingly, men get a second wind. From 65 on, they start to once again see themselves as pretty smooth operators on the dance floor.
Lovatt thinks it might have to do with the falling confidence of older women, which could have a liberating effect on men. "A lot of men have come up to me and said, 'Oh, man, I'm a terrible dancer,'" Lovatt says. "I asked them why, and they answered: 'My wife says so.'" But if women are dissatisfied with their own dancing skills, Lovatt reasons, then they are hardly in a position to criticize their husbands, who can then feel free to release their inner Travolta.
'You Should Relax'
An alternative theory explains the patterns in terms of natural selection. "Optimistic people live longer," Lovatt says. "They are less likely to develop a life-threatening illness." Hence it could be that the relative percentage of optimists in the population starts to increase from the age of 65.
So what does Dr. Dance prescribe for those who prefer to keep their booty firmly attached to the nearest bar stool, rather than shaking it? "I don't think there is anybody who can't dance," says Lovatt. "You shouldn't be afraid of your own movements, you should relax."
At the end of the day, Dr. Dance's message is simple: "Let go, your body should move!"
Want Dr. Dance to analyze your dance moves? Send us your video and we will publish a selection, with Dr. Dance's evaluation.
- Part 1: The Secrets of Looking Good on the Dance Floor
- Part 2: 'Women Don't Like It Small'
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