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Dance reveals symmetry especially in young men

A Retraction to this article was published on 27 November 2013


Dance is believed to be important in the courtship of a variety of species, including humans, but nothing is known about what dance reveals about the underlying phenotypic—or genotypic—quality of the dancer1,2,3,4,5,6. One measure of quality in evolutionary studies is the degree of bodily symmetry (fluctuating asymmetry, FA), because it measures developmental stability7,8. Does dance quality reveal FA to the observer and is the effect stronger for male dancers than female? To answer these questions, we chose a population that has been measured twice for FA since 1996 (ref. 9) in a society (Jamaican) in which dancing is important in the lives of both sexes. Motion-capture cameras created controlled stimuli (in the form of videos) that isolated dance movements from all other aspects of visual appearance (including FA), and the same population evaluated these videos for dancing ability. Here we report that there are strong positive associations between symmetry and dancing ability, and these associations were stronger in men than in women. In addition, women rate dances by symmetrical men relatively more positively than do men, and more-symmetrical men value symmetry in women dancers more than do less-symmetrical men. In summary, dance in Jamaica seems to show evidence of sexual selection and to reveal important information about the dancer.

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Figure 1: Symmetry, dance ability and sex differences in evaluators' preferences for symmetry.
Figure 2: Male evaluator FA and preferences for female symmetry.


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We thank the Jamaican Ministry of Education and Culture for permission to conduct research. We are grateful for assistance from teachers, principals, parents, students, M. Cuff, B. Dunham, N. Sutherland and D. Zaatari. Financial support was provided by Rutgers University, the University of Washington Animation Labs, the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, the Rutgers Center for Human Evolutionary Studies, the Biosocial Research Foundation, and NSF grants awarded to L.C., Z.P. and R.T. W.M.B. was supported by an NSERC (Canada) postdoctoral fellowship.

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Correspondence to William M. Brown.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Figure 1

Location of eight motion-capture cameras. Camera number 7 is ceiling mounted (see image of ceiling mounted Vicon camera inset). The 2-metre squared space is the area in which a dancer was permitted to move during motion-capture (see image of subject). (PDF 55 kb)

Supplementary Figure 2

Location of lightweight reflective surface markers. The Vicon camera units emit infrared beams that are reflected off the surface markers back to the units (PDF 89 kb)

Supplementary Movie 1

Narrated demonstration of how Vicon equipment was used. (MOV 11331 kb)

Supplementary Movie 2

Symmetrical male’s dance motion-captured. (MOV 4906 kb)

Supplementary Movie 3

Asymmetrical male’s dance motion-captured. (MOV 5024 kb)

Supplementary Methods

Supplementary Methods nature04334-s6.pdf Additional details of the methods used in this study. (PDF 106 kb)

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Brown, W., Cronk, L., Grochow, K. et al. Dance reveals symmetry especially in young men. Nature 438, 1148–1150 (2005).

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