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Body Symmetry and Dance Ability


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#16 bart

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Posted 07 January 2006 - 05:50 AM

Thanks, drb, for posting your discoveries. It's interesting to see the way technology expands the manner in which you can present what are -- in effect -- footnotes and what used to be called "figures" in the graphics section.

I wish I could say I saw much of a difference. The choreography in 2 and 3 was not identical, which should -- I would think -- raise aquestions about the conclusions. (Eg., In video 2 the computer animation is clearly positioning one hand directly under his chin-cheek area for a short period of time. This is missing from video 2.)

The "symmetrical" dancer appeared to me to have one arm longer than the other. (??) I did not notice this in the "assymtrical dancer." Obviously I'll have to look again more closely when there is more time to focus and rewind.

Also, the "dance" elements were not something I was familiar with, consisting primarily of an in-place shuffle (kind of time step?), partial rotationof torso, and some arm movement. Wouldn't other kinds of dance have demonstrated this matter more clearly? For instance: Balinese or other Southeast Asian, with movements done to right and to left.

#17 drb

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Posted 07 January 2006 - 09:10 AM

"The choreography in 2 and 3 was not identical, which should -- I would think -- raise aquestions about the conclusions."
Dancing here refers to social dancing in Jamaica.

"The "symmetrical" dancer appeared to me to have one arm longer than the other. (??)"
What is being measured, "Fluctuating Asymmetry", involves Subtle Asymmetry (typically variations well below 1%, probably hard to see) and specifically excludes Conspicuous Asymmetry--some nice examples above, cited by Carbro.

They are looking for deviations from the tendancy of cells to seek bilateral symmetry, and how Natural Selection might lead to more symmetry in people. The second paragraph of the paper remarks on the connection between subtle asymmetry and various less desirable traits in a mate (lower developmental stability, for instance, which is associated with a lot of negatives, including earlier mortality). In a word, these virtually imperceptible differences are associated with real genetic problems.

The first finding, that the opposite sex finds people who lack subtle asymmetry to be better dancers, combines with social dancing being part of the way one choses a mate. This yields a long-term hypothesis (hence the long-term follow-up part of the study) that these people will marry according to matching dance skills and produce a generation of more symmetrical offspring. A by-product of this would seem to be a generation of better dancers.

It is interesting that such subtle lack of symmetry is associated with inferior dancing skill, moreso in men than in women. While they give some explanation in terms of known differences between the sexes in terms of the way they select mates, I wonder if they may be missing the fact that women are more likely to have had formal dance training. This training may have helped some women become better dancers despite asymmetries, and that could be one reason why less of female dance skill was attributed to symmetry (23% vs 48% for men).

Your last paragraph is very perceptive. A difficulty with this kind or research is statistical variation, which would blur distinctions if the study were not narrowly focussed. If you look at the paper itself, you'll see quite a jumble of math, even under these carefully controlled conditions. The way round this is further quite specific studies within individual groups such as those you identify. Some of the key biological understanding is quite cross-cultural, and dancing's importance in mate-selection is likewise. So generalizations from the study will probably not be implausible.

Perhaps for this forum, the most relevant idea coming from the work is that there may be a long-term human trend toward making people who will be able to dance better. Another may be that dancing, from the role it plays in mate selection, may contribute (and have already contributed) to long-term greater health and longer life expectancy for the human race.


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