Dance Psychology

Looking at dance and dancers through the lens of psychology

Sex and Dancing

Shake your tail feathers: Hips, Orgasms and Dancing.

Dancing: The Vertical Expression of a Horizontal Desire...

It's no surprise that nightclubs are dark places, they foster feelings of lust, sex and love and sometimes, when we dance there, we can go through the stages of fancying, loving, fumbling foreplay, intercourse, climax and post-coital bliss just by making eye contact, and holding it, with someone on the other side of the dance floor. Dancing is, according to George Bernard Shaw, "The vertical expression of a horizontal desire legalized by music".

There is tons of evidence for this, from the anecdotal to the scientific. Lets start with the science and work our way down. Darwin thought that dance was part of the mate selection process and more recently two groups of researchers (Brown et al., 2005 and Fink et al., 2007) suggest that the way we dance might be influenced by our hormonal and genetic make up, such that we use dance to communicate the quality of our genes to potential mates.

In my own lab I have observed similar findings. I filmed people dancing naturally in a real nightclub and I found that men with high levels of the sex hormone testosterone dance differently to men with low levels of testosterone and, most importantly, women prefer the dancing of high testosterone men. Now, if we couple this with the finding that the female sexual partners of high testosterone men report having more orgasms during sex than the sexual partners of low testosterone men we can see how dancing style is well worth looking at when we are looking for a mate.

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What about women? When women are at the more fertile stage of their menstrual cycle they dance differently to when they are at the less fertile stage of their cycle. I have found that men rate the dancing of women who are at the fertile stage of their cycle to be more attractive than the dancing of women who are at the less fertile stage of their menstrual cycle. So what's so different about the dancing of fertile and less fertile women? It's all in the hips. At the more fertile stage of their cycle women move their hips more when they are dancing compared with when they are at the less fertile stage. I have used eye tracking devises to see where men look on a woman's body when she dances and I have found that men spend more time looking at the hips of women who are more fertile than they spend looking at the hips of women who are less fertile. So, the more time men spend looking at a woman's hips the more attractive they find her!

Now for the anecdotal supporting evidence. Scientists turn away now. It was Saturday 29th October 1988 and I'd gone to a nightclub in London's West End with three female friends. I didn't fancy any of them. Earlier that night we had been at a Halloween party. All three of my friends had dressed for the occasion and they looked very gothic. They wore black clothes, heavy black eye liner, and their hair had been back-combed. I really wasn't looking for love, not here. As we went into the nightclub, which was buzzing, I noticed several attractive women on the dance floor. I went to the bar to work out how I was going to leave my three gothic friends in the event that I got lucky with one of these gorgeous non-goths.

It took ten minutes to get served, during which time I had my back to the dance floor. When I turned around, once I'd got a drink, I saw a vision above the dance floor. A girl had climbed up onto a podium in the middle of the floor and she was dancing like a goddess. I couldn't take my eyes off her. She was stunning. I watched her dance for as long as I could and with every beat of music this women became even more attractive. I couldn't help myself, eight weeks later I proposed to her. I couldn't let her go. We've now been married for over twenty years and I still think she's gorgeous, but she's never dressed as a Goth again, not since October 1988.

Peter Lovatt is a psychologist and dancer based at the University of Hertfordshire.

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