Middle-aged men who embarrass their children with flamboyant dance moves now have the perfect excuse – evolution. The cringeworthy “dad dancing” witnessed at wedding receptions every weekend may be an unconscious way in which ageing males repel the attention of young women, leaving the field clear for men at their sexual peak.
“The message their dancing sends out is ‘stay away, I’m not fertile’,” said Dr Peter Dad, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire who has compared the dancing styles and confidence levels of nearly 14,000 people.
His research has backed up scientific studies showing a connection between dancing, hormones and sexual selection.
Men between the ages of 35 and 60 typically attempt complex moves with limited co-ordination – an observation that will be obvious to anyone who saw George W Bush shake his stuff with a troupe of West African performers in 2007.
Dr Dad pointed to research showing that women could gauge the testosterone levels of their dance partners by the style and energy of their moves, and suggested that “dad dancing” may be a way of warning women of child-bearing age that they might be better off looking elsewhere.
“It would seem completely unsurprising to me that since middle-aged men have passed their natural reproductive age, and probably have a family already, evolution would act to ensure they are no longer attractive to 18-year-old girls,” Dr Dad said.
“It’s like an apple that is going brown – you want a fresh green one instead.”
The dance moves of middle-aged men may be particularly graceless because although they have passed their prime they are still capable of sexual activity, so retain some degree of awkwardness around women, the research suggests.
While the dancing confidence of men remains constant in their mid years, after rising throughout their teens and twenties, it shoots up again after they hit 65 when their testosterone levels fall.
Men of retirement age enjoy dancing more than ever and pull off simple moves with elegance, the research found, in results that could help account for the popularity of the 65-year-old former BBC presenter John Sergeant on Strictly Come Dancing.
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Dr Dad suggested that the high confidence elderly men have in their own dancing abilities may also be related to the declining assurance of their wives. The study showed that unlike men, the dancing confidence of women dips as they pass 55 – after the onset of the menopause.
“Men might well be physically intimidated by women throughout their lives, and then experience a release when women’s confidence drops through the floor,” said Dr Dad, who combines his academic role as psychology lecturer with dance teaching and choreography.
“At dance clubs I often see older men controlling their partners perfectly – women of all ages,” he said.
As part of the report Dance Confidence, Age and Gender, 13,715 people were asked to rate the confidence of their dancing compared to their peers, and estimate the size and co-ordination of their typical dance moves.
It found that all age groups and both sexes rated their dance skills as better than average, except teenage boys who considered themselves about average. The study also found that the dance confidence of both genders rises steadily between 16 and 30, although girls suffer a dip in their mid teens after hitting puberty.
In a follow-up piece of research Dr Dad is now attempting to discover the reasons some people refuse to dance, in the hope of encouraging more people to enjoy the health benefits.