The Science And Art Of Dad Dancing

In his early 20s, Prince William was often seen stumbling out of night clubs after a night of grooving. Now, however, as though a clock has struck 12, this youthful cavorting appears to have transformed into something altogether more cringeworthy: dad dancing.

In a viral video captured at a Taylor Swift concert, the heir to the throne was filmed with his arms aloft, chest shimmying swiftly – and somewhat stiffly – to the beat.

At Glastonbury this weekend, tens of thousands of men will also be “shaking it off” in similar energetic fashion.

While scientific studies have confirmed that older men do indeed dance differently to their younger counterparts – and this may have evolved as a way of signalling their declining biological fitness – experts argue that dad dancing should be celebrated, not slated, for the numerous benefits it can bring.

“When I look at Prince William dancing, I just see someone who’s smiling, he’s happy, and dance does those amazing things,” said Dr Peter Lovatt (AKA Dr Dance), the head of dance psychology at Movement in Practice and author of The Dance Cure.

“We know that dancing is really good for social bonding, and that when people dance together they report liking and trusting each other more. Even when you’re dancing with strangers, you get those impacts of increased trust and familiarity.”

Prince William does the Rusty Robot. Photograph:

Lovatt became interested in the phenomenon of dad dancing after various studies had suggested that the way people groove and boogie was influenced by their hormones, with women rating men who had been exposed to high levels of testosterone in the womb as more attractive and masculine dancers.

Sceptical of such claims, Lovatt began bringing people into his laboratory and testing them for himself. He even temporarily moved his laboratory into a nightclub and took short video samples of hundreds of people dancing, as well as testing their hormone exposures, and then asked other people to rate their movements for attractiveness, dominance, masculinity and femininity.

“What we found was that, in both males and females, the way people move was influenced by their hormonal and genetic makeup, and when people watch other people dance, their ratings of their attractiveness varies as a function of the way they’re moving,” Lovatt said.

High-testosterone men typically coordinate bigger movements in different parts of their body, which makes their outlines more interesting, and break up the rhythm of the music, rather than dancing solidly to the beat.

Separate research, by Dr Nick Neave at Northumbria University, found that young women judged men to be good dancers if they had a varied repertoire and more moves that involved tilting and twisting the torso and neck – although most men display highly repetitive moves involving their arms and legs, but not the rest of their bodies.

Such studies could indicate that human dance performs a similar role to the elaborate courtship dances that certain birds and animals use to attract a mate. “Possibly, when we are in our youth and our prime, we are communicating something about how wonderful our hormones and our genes are,” said Lovatt, likening the ageing male to a browning apple in the middle of a bowl of fruit.

Some studies suggest human dancing performs a role similar to the elaborate courtship dances of certain birds. Photograph: drferry/Getty/iStockphoto

“It has been suggested that as we get older, we are displaying the fact that we are perhaps less fertile, less attractive and less than ideal mates through the way that we dance.”

Even so, he feels uncomfortable reducing the evolutionary significance of dance to this single factor. As well as boosting familiarity and trust, other studies have suggested that improvised dancing – or “groovy moving” – also changes the way we think and solve problems.

Lovatt said: “We know that anxiety and depression are associated with being stuck in negative patterns of thinking, and when people engage in dance, those negative thoughts get disrupted for a while. There’s a lifting in their mood and they break away from those set patterns of thinking.”

To Dr Ian Blackwell, a visiting lecturer at Plymouth Marjon University and the organiser of the World Dad Dancing Championships, the scrutiny of William’s dancing is a reflection of how society still expects men to conform, and not express themselves. “It’s a shame that anytime that a dad gets up to move, it has negative connotations – it’s embarrassing for him and the children, it’s embarrassing for the public.

“We know the value of dancing for health, wellbeing and making friends. It’s something that we should celebrate.”

Despite further research by Lovatt suggesting some men avoid dancing because they fear being judged, men’s confidence in their dancing abilities usually grows as they get older – and once they hit their mid-60s, it “goes through the roof”.

Robin Woods, from Devon, was crowned World Dad Dancing champion at Dadfest last year. Photograph: Roy Riley

The reigning World Dad Dancing champion, Robin Woods, a father of three from Paignton in Devon, said he has not been shy about sharing his triumph on Facebook. “I think the people that know me from when I used to go out a lot – and always ended up on the dancefloor – were pleased that I’ve finally been recognised,” he chuckled.

“It’s a nice thing – it’s not a serious thing – and so it’s fine that I’m making fun of myself.”

Woods, who describes his usual dancing style as “freestyle” with influences from James Brown and Michael Jackson, was not even sure what dad dancing involved when he entered the competition, which is judged by children and takes place at DadFest in Devon each September. “I just assumed it would be a bit more enthusiastic and amateurish than normal dancing – so, I just went for it and exaggerated everything I did.”

He claimed the title after a hard-fought dance-off with two other finalists performed to Mr Brightside by The Killers and Baby Shark by Pinkfong.

Blackwell said that while the clip of William’s dancing was too short to judge whether he could be in with a chance of winning, “he would be very welcome to come to DadFest in September so we can see the full extent of his moves and whether he’s got a decent Lawnmower Starter, Big Fish, Little Fish, John Travolta, or Lasso.”

A visual guide to dad dancing

The reigning World Dad Dancing champion, Robin Woods, demonstrates some classic moves to get men dancing – plus one of his own.

The Lawnmower Starter is all in the arm whips. Photograph: Roy Riley/The Guardian

Lawnmower Starter

Clamp your leading foot down on to an imaginary petrol lawnmower, then repeatedly whip your arm and clenched fist upwards, as though trying to start the machine.

The Rusty Robot: think Tin Man. Photograph: Roy Riley/The Guardian

Rusty Robot

Like the body-popping robot move, but rustier, this internationally recognised dad dancing move involves imitating the mechanical movements of a misfiring Tin Man robot.

The Jackhammer requires a wide stance. Photograph: Roy Riley/The Guardian


Imagine you are a miner stooped over a pneumatic drill, and press your arms up and down to the beat of the drums.

Woods breaks free of the standard dad moves with the Dad Dip, his own invention. Photograph: Roy Riley/The Guardian

Dad Dip

One of Wood’s own inventions, this prize-winning move involves leaning back and landing on one hand, then pushing yourself back up and landing on the other hand. “I have been doing it for years,” Woods said. “Maybe I just discovered that I could do it without falling over again.”

Baby Shark: the toddlers’ favourite. Photograph: Roy Riley/The Guardian

Baby Shark

A dance for the whole family to do – doo doo, doo doo, doo doo. It involves imitating the movements of baby, mama, papa, grandma and grandpa shark as they go for a swim.

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