We have all witnessed it – a packed dancefloor of bodies gyrating perfectly to the beat suddenly being emptied by the unwelcome appearance of a man flailing his arms about wildly.
But for the millions of wannabe lotharios who find it impossible to dance without looking like a malfunctioning windmill, a solution may be at hand: psychologists claim to have discovered the key dance moves that make men attractive to women.
As the single most important arena where humans select their mates, the dancefloor can inspire terror and longing – but more often embarrassment and hilarity. Millions strut their stuff every night in venues across the country, but no scientific study of what makes a successful dancer has been made until now.
Researchers at Northumbria University identified differences between "good" and "bad" male dancers based on the responses they provoke in women. The results, which are surprisingly detailed, suggest that the speed of the right knee is critical, as is the size and variability of movement of the neck, trunk, left shoulder and wrist.
Women were most excited by men who danced vigorously, making large movements of their upper body and head, but who also varied their movements, showing creativity and flair. Head bangers were a definite turn-off. Those who can emulate the street dancers Diversity, who won Britain's Got Talent last year, will garner plenty of female admirers, they said. But those who lean towards folk dancing of the Riverdance kind face disappointment – Irish dancing, with its focus on leg kicking and a static upper body, is unlikely to set women's hearts racing.
Nick Neave, who led the research, published in Biology Letters, said: "This is the first study to show objectively what differentiates a good dancer from a bad one. Men all over the world will be interested to know what moves they can throw to attract women."
The researchers have posted videos of good and bad dancers on the web, so men keen to put the findings into practice can do so.
Male volunteers were filmed with a 3D camera system as they danced to a basic rhythm, and avatars – humanoid characters – were programmed to reproduce their moves so that 35 female volunteers could rate them for sex appeal without being influenced by their level of physical attractiveness.
Dr Neave said: "We now know which area of the body females are looking at when they are making a judgement about male dance attractiveness. If a man knows what the key moves are, he can get some training and improve his chances of attracting a female through his dance style."
But his own initial response had been more ambivalent, he confessed. "When I saw the good dancer I thought he was a bit of a show off. I thought 'What a pillock'. But he has got that flair and variability and creativity. If you had had a drink you might think 'He's interesting, I'll go and have a chat.'"
The bad dancer, walking around in a circle making the same stereotypical movements, was more obvious – small, tentative movements with little hint of vigour or variability.
The researchers added that movement plays an important role in animal courtship, with males performing elaborate courtship dances to attract females. Dance movements form "honest signals of a man's reproductive quality, in terms of health, vigour or strength".