Most bad dancers have nothing but their own awkwardness and self-consciousness to blame, but for a few, a complete lack of rhythm could have a biological explanation, suggests some new research published this week in Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences. It’s called beat-deafness, and it’s a sensory deficit analogous to being tone-deaf, or color-blind.
It’s a pretty new concept, first identified in a study published just three years ago, and as such, the researchers could only find two beat-deaf individuals to participate in their study. They first asked the participants to tap out a rhythmic beat on their own, and the beat-deaf individuals were just as capable of doing this as the normal individuals. But when the researchers asked them to tap in time with a metronome, which sped up and slowed down intermittently, it all fell apart. Their mistakes indicated deficits in biological rhythms, “including the natural frequencies or rates at which the internal oscillations pulsed, and how long it took them to respond to the new metronome tempo,” Caroline Palmer, a McGill University professor and lead author of the study, said in the study’s press release.
In all likelihood, however, you can’t blame your own bad dancing on beat-deafness. Palmer told The Australian, “Many people think they have more severe problems than they do when they come in for testing.” A few can blame biology. The rest of us are just awkward.