Birds do it

As the sap rises and the season turns, Florence Walker says we should dust off our dancing shoes and prepare for peak romance

April 27 2020


Spring has sprung. As the buds pucker up in anticipation of a kiss from soft rays of sun, there’s only one thing on Mother Nature’s mind: sex.

Granted, it’s never very far away from her prefrontal cortex. But right now, she’s gagging for it and will ramp up her enthusiasm as the months progress, while warmer weather will have male and female eyes of all species a-wandering before you can say “heatwave”.

But in the animal kingdom, that glad eye can come to nought without the help of another courting ritual: dancing. To encourage a mate, birds display some very elaborate moves to show that they’re a catch. Because it is generally the females that invest time and energy into developing their gametes (or “eggs” to us lay people), it’s the males that put on a show. Peacocks are a prime example, although there are plenty more birds of paradise with exotic plumage. By displaying clean, healthy feathers they are signalling to potential love-interests, “I’m parasite free, you dig? Baby, let’s make the next generation together.”

Birds with fancy footwork have a serious advantage, however. Just observe the bowerbird and his extraordinarily hypnotic dance, which involves alternately dilating his eyes and a particularly sexy, slow waving of his wing followed by a quick shudder – enough to set any female bird aflutter.

Male and female birds perform courtship displays that are synchronised. This is especially important in monogamous pairings where the cooperation between the mother and father is essential for their offspring’s wellbeing. These rituals, which can either be dancing or singing (karaoke, anyone?), facilitate pair bonding, strengthening the ties between the parents and ensuring a happy nest.

So what of us flightless bi-peds? George Bernard Shaw perhaps expressed it best when he said that dancing is “the vertical expression of a horizontal desire legalised by music”. Peter Lovatt, also known as Dr Dance, would agree. In one experiment, dance psychologist Dr Lovatt investigated the connection between movement and sexual attraction by filming dancers in a nightclub. His findings were unsurprising – good dancers make good bedfellows.

His first discovery was that the varying levels of testosterone in men make them dance differently, and that women preferred the dancing of men with higher levels of testosterone. But do higher levels of testosterone make you better in bed? Well, women report having more orgasms with men who have more testosterone. Are there really any other measures of a man’s sexual prowess? No, I couldn’t think of any either.

But it isn’t just women who respond to dancing. Men do too, and in their case, those hips don’t lie. Using eye detection monitors, Lovatt found that men who are attracted to women tend to focus their gaze on women’s swaying hips – and these women were, incidentally, at the most fertile point in their menstrual cycle. There appeared to be a direct correlation between a woman being at peak fertility in her cycle, and the sway of her hips. Shakira, Shakira! Additionally, along with increased hip movement, the ratio between waist and hip size is a tell-tale sign of fertility. The higher the ratio, the more fertile the female.

No wonder strip clubs – for men and women – are doing such a roaring trade. Swinging around a pole or prancing in your smalls not your style? Then book a class at Dance Attic, Seen on Screen, or Caramelo Latin Dance to add some new moves to your mating and relating repertoire.

Florence Walker is a reporter for the Evening Standard, GQ and Spectator