Dr. Peter Lovatt, the 48-year-old head and founder of the Dance Psychology Lab at the University of Hertfordshire in England—a post he’d held since 2008—rarely has difficulty convincing people to dance. His lectures on dance psychology, which he’s given across Europe, from colleges in Germany to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, often end with the audience bursting into dance. He’s inspired men and women, teenagers and seniors, doctors and lawyers to embrace their inner dance machines. But there’s one type of person who even Lovatt hasn’t been able to entice to bust a move.
When he was asked to teach a dance workshop to employees at Deutsche Bank in London, as part of an exercise to eliminate insider cliques within the organization, Lovett was initially hopeful. “I broke them into little groups and had them create their own dances,” he says. But one of the groups insisted the task was impossible, given their utter lack of rhythm.
“I told them, ‘I don’t believe you. I think you can dance.’ And they were like, ‘No, no, we seriously can’t.’ They honestly thought it was hopeless.”
He eventually lured them into marching in unison to the beat of a song. “Anyone can dance if you don’t think you’re dancing,” he says. “When you walk, you walk in a rhythm. Your heart beats in a rhythm. And you swing your arms in a rhythm. We’re all naturally rhythmic when we’re just being human beings.”
As well-meaning as Lovatt’s work might be, it begs the question: Why exactly should bankers be dancing?
He points to a research study he conducted in 2009, where he and his staff gathered data on 800 dancers at a nightclub. They measured the ring and index fingers of male participants (the length difference indicates testosterone levels) and where the women were in their respective menstrual cycles. Then they recorded each person dancing, and showed the videos to 6,000 strangers.
“We blurred the images, so you couldn’t see their features,” Lovatt says. “You couldn’t tell if they were attractive or ugly, black or white, fat or thin.” In all cases, the men with higher levels of testosterone were rated as more attractive for the way they danced than men with lower testosterone. The same for women with more estrogen.
What practical applications does Lovatt’s research have for someone in a corporate environment? “You can make yourself more or less attractive to a potential client by changing the way you move,” he says. The trick is learning how to move your body like somebody with high testosterone or estrogen levels, which means coordinating your movements with the person you’re interacting with. “You don’t have to move identically, just in a consistent pattern,” Lovatt says. “If you accentuate some of their rhythms with your own body, they’ll look at you as somebody who’s desirable.”
What’s considered desirable in a nightclub is very different than what’s desirable in an office setting. But Lovatt says they’re two sides of the same coin.
“Imagine you’re meeting with somebody for a sales pitch,” he says. “If you use small movements, where you’re doing the same thing over and over again—what I call in a nightclub setting ‘Dad Dancing’—eventually the person watching will get bored and their attention will drift.” But with subtle changes in movement patterns, using the same physical cues that announce biological desirability, it’s possible to hold anybody’s undivided attention for longer periods.
“I’m not suggesting that you start dancing during a sales pitch,” Lovatt says. “But by subtly moving your feet or arms or shoulders or head, it keeps people watching. And the more you have their attention, the more likely it is that you’ll sell whatever it is you’re trying to sell.”
Lovatt’s research isn’t devoted solely to the corporate benefits of dance. Over the past several years, he’s explored how dance can have a positive influence on health (as a form of therapy for patients with Parkinson’s disease) and problem-solving. The former professional dancer—Lovatt retired from performing when he was 26 to focus on academia—used dance to teach himself, a lifelong illiterate, how to read.
But working with companies, like a workshop he hosted with the London branch of advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi, where he “demonstrated how dance can unlock creative patterns of thinking,” has been a substantial source of funding for his research. (He won’t share exactly what he’s paid for his business workshops, but he admits it’s “lucrative.”)
One of the biggest benefits for corporate professionals who embrace dancing, Lovatt says, is the shift not just in how they’re perceived by their peers, but by the outside world. “People in the financial industry dress and act and move in a different way than the rest of us,” he says. “Bankers, hedge fund managers, Wall Street people, they hold themselves differently. But when we dance, it releases something primal. Over hundreds of years, we’ve learned to control the way we move so that it shows something false to the outside world. But with dance, you see the real person coming through.”
When a banker or hedge fund manager dances, he says, they reveal some part of themselves that’s more intimate and vulnerable than a ravenous, remorseless profiteer. “Dance makes you human again,” he says. “It’s a very leveling thing.”
Unless, of course, that banker or hedge fund manager really doesn’t have a relatable human side. “Dance can only do so much,” Lovatt admits. “Maybe you’re just a bad person. I can’t do miracles.”