Contrary to what enthusiastic male dancers might think, waving their arms around is not considered sexy.
The research, by psychologists at Northumbria University, could be studied by men struggling to woo women by giving them tips on brushing up their technique.
There may be good reproductive reasons for women being turned off by bad dancing – as men with more rhythm and style could be seen as being stronger and fitter.
The study was led by psychologist Nick Neave, who believed dance movements may form honest signals of a man’s reproductive quality, in terms of health, vigour or strength, and will carry out further research to fully grasp the implications.
The researchers filmed 19 volunteers with 3D motion-capture technology dancing to a simple beat, then rendered them into faceless computer characters so women would not be influenced by the dancers’ looks.
Then female volunteers rated their performance, allowing the scientists to work out which moves made the difference.
The team found eight movement variables were key to being judged a good or bad dancer. These were the size of movement of the neck, trunk, left shoulder and wrist, the variability of movement size of the neck, trunk and left wrist, and the speed of movement of the right knee.
Female perceptions of good dance quality were influenced most by large and varied movements involving the neck and trunk.
In the TV comedy The Office, manager David Brent’s infamous dance routine with flailing arms and stiff, jerky movements could be used as an example of “how not to do it”.
Brent’s body was too stiff, his arms movement were too wild and head-banging is seen as a turn-off.
Dr Neave said: “This is the first study to show objectively what differentiates a good dancer from a bad one.
“Men all over the world will be interested to know what moves they can throw to attract women.
“We now know which area of the body females are looking at when they are making a judgment about male dance attractiveness.
“If a man knows what the key moves are, he can get some training and improve his chances of attracting a female through his dance style.”
Researcher Kristofor McCarty said: “The methods we have used here have allowed us to make some preliminary predictions as to why dance has evolved.
“Our results clearly show there seems to be a strong general consensus as to what is seen as a good and bad dance, and that women appear to like and look for the same sort of moves.”