Your Dance Moves Are As Unique As Your Fingerprints, Say Scientists

mbg Editorial Assistant By Jamie Schneider
mbg Editorial Assistant
Jamie Schneider is the Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen with a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan. She's previously written for Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.
dancer in bodysuit balancing on one leg with outstretched arms near mirror in modern studio

Image by Sergio Marcos / Stocksy

We all have our signature moves: Are you a simple head-nod kind of dancer? A shoe-tapper? Do you erupt into an arm-flailing jig? 

According to a new study published in the Journal of New Music Research, those signature dance moves are completely unique to you—perhaps just as distinct as your fingerprints

This isn't the first study to measure the relationship between our dance moves and identity—previous research has shown the way we dance can determine how extroverted or neurotic you are, your mood, and even how much you empathize with others. This study is, however, the first of its kind to show how personal our dance moves really are—so much so, in fact, that a computer can identify you with no information except for how you break it down (or don't) on the dance floor. 

Even more interesting, these researchers made this discovery entirely by accident.

Researchers originally wanted to study whether a computer could determine the musical genre from people's dance moves. They recruited 73 participants to dance to eight different genres: blues, country, dance/electronica, jazz, metal, pop, reggae, and rap. Their only instructions were to move however they felt was natural. 

The computer couldn't identify the correct music genre (it guessed correctly less than 30% of the time). It could, however, correctly identify which of the 73 participants were dancing. The computer guessed each dancer correctly 94% of the time.

"It seems as though a person's dance movements are a kind of fingerprint," says co-author of the study Pasi Saari, Ph.D. "Each person has a unique movement signature that stays the same no matter what kind of music is playing."

While you might think that you have similar dance moves to a friend or family member (or maybe you're trying to emulate a certain pop star), there are little nuances that help the computer pick you out from a crowd.

Despite these exciting findings, researchers note that the computer had a more difficult time trying to identify the participants when they were dancing to a musical genre that inspires similar moves. Like heavy metal, for example, with its notorious head-banging gesture.  

"It's probable that metal caused more dancers to move in similar ways, making it harder to tell them apart," first author of the study Emily Carlson, Ph.D., says in a news release

What are the next (one, two) steps?

While this research makes us curious about the future capabilities of computer-recognition software (imagine this: To unlock your iPhone, you'd need to show off a couple of moves), researchers are more interested in the social and cultural implications of these findings. 

"We have a lot of new questions to ask, like whether our movement signatures stay the same across our lifespan, whether we can detect differences between cultures based on these movement signatures, and how well humans are able to recognize individuals from their dance movements compared to computers," Carlson says

So, it looks like we can expect more studies where participants try to guess someone's identity, with nothing but their dancing as a clue. Apparently we really do dance to the beat of our own drum. 

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