Strictly animals dancing

Who is the best dancer in the animal kingdom? It’s time to find out as eight species take centre stage and strut their stuff in the wildest talent show of all.

A
a
-
Strictly animals dancing
Who is the best dancer in the animal kingdom? It’s time to find out as eight species take centre stage and strut their stuff in the wildest talent show of all.
 
The sequins, stilettos and stars of Strictly Come Dancing have made it a Saturday-night ritual for millions. But other species can teach us a thing or two when it comes to the waltz or the samba.
 
Animals are amazingly energetic and sophisticated performers, often with an elegance and sense of rhythm to shame our own lumpen efforts.
 
Perhaps that’s not surprising – we perform just for pleasure or to entertain others. Dancing for animals can be a vital way to attract a mate, strengthen a relationship, fight off a rival or communicate complex messages.
 
It's time to welcome our Strictly judges: 
 
 
  • Nick Baker
    A naturalist and TV presenter, Nick has long worked with species at the weirder end of the animal spectrum – with far less skill on the dance floor.
 
  • Philippa Forrester
    A wildlife TV presenter, Philippa loves to watch the routines of playful otters and dazzling kingfishers near her Halcyon River home.
 
  • George McGavin
    Familiar to most of us as one of the team of explorers on the BBC's Lost Lands... series, George has tracked beasts from beetles to tigers around the planet – and knows plenty about animal moves.
 
  • Sophie Stafford
    The editor of BBC Wildlife is a big Strictly fan and, like leggy TV judge Alesha, has been known to bust some moves on the dance floor.
 
It's time to meet the stars of our show...
 
 
1. Verreaux’s sifaka
Signature style: Line dance
 
To watch this dance in action, click here.
 
Humans aren’t the only primates capable of fancy footwork. In Tanzania, Jane Goodall observed chimps performing a ‘rain dance’ before a thunderstorm. But the most charismatic dancer of any non-human primate has to be Verreaux’s sifaka.
 
This gangly-limbed lemur lives in the spiny bush of south-west Madagascar, where it has developed a technique for crossing areas of open ground that – to our eyes – is a dance that veers from the balletic to the comical.
 
Bouncing along on spindly hind legs with great hopping side-steps, groups of sifakas pogo across the red, sandy earth. In truth, they look alternately like triple jumpers and prima ballerinas – arms extended for balance in clumsy demi-pliés.
 
 
 

George says: ‘Love the synchronised moves. Great footwork, but try to use the upper body and arms more expressively. Plenty of energy, but rather unidirectional – use more of the dance floor.’

 
The judges' scores are in:
 
Nick: 7
Philippa: 4
George: 5
Sophie: 6
 
Overall score: 22
 

 

 
2. Stoat
Signature style: Breakdance
 
To watch this dance in action, click here.
 
The stoat’s so-called ‘dance of death’ is one of the strangest in the animal kingdom. Hurling itself around as if possessed by a demonic force, this slinky carnivore performs frenzied leaps, back-flips, full-body spins and forward rolls at dizzying speed in a display reminiscent of 1980s breakdancing.
 
It is often said that the stoat dances to hypnotise its prey so it can kill the entranced victim. But the frolics are more likely to be pure high jinks. If so, it is mere coincidence when a nearby rabbit attracts the stoat’s attention and ends up as dinner.
 
Another theory is that the hunter itself is the victim of a parasitic nematode worm causing abnormal bony growths that create pressure on its brain – in other words, the cavorting could be neurologically induced.
 
Either way, it’s a high-octane performance to remember.
 
 
Sophie says: ‘Great use of space and bags of energy from start to finish! I loved the jumps and flips – performed with super attack – though the pace was a little frenzied and more moves would’ve been nice.’
 
The judges' scores are in:
 
Nick: 2
Philippa: 2
George: 8
Sophie: 7
 
Overall score: 19
 
 
 
3. Honeybee
Signature style: Samba
 
To watch this dance in action, click here.
 
For a dance with real meaning, look no further than your neighbourhood hive. A newly returned bee shimmies in a straight line, then circles first one way then the other, to repeat its hip-wiggling in the same direction again and again. So what’s it trying to say?
 
In short: this way to dinner. The series of high-frequency waggles and spins may be structured not just to look lively, but also to indicate the distance and direction to a new food source.
 
It’s the language of dance – literally: some researchers assert that the use of arbitrary signals makes the waggle dance the only true non-human language in the animal kingdom.
 
 
Sophie says: ‘Lots of bounce, simple but precise steps and great tight turns. The bum wiggling was a-maz-ing – super shimmying – with nice wing action. You really got the party started!’
 
The judges' scores are in:
 
Nick: 8
Philippa: 7
George: 9
Sophie: 6
 
Overall score: 30
 
 
 
4. Blue-footed booby
Signature style: Flamenco
 
To watch this dance in action, click here.
 
Few creatures could be less sensuous than the frankly absurd-looking booby. Its vacuous gaze and comedy footwear add to the impression of a circus clown – or, indeed, a whole Big Top of them, bobbing among the rocks of the Galápagos Islands.
 
So whether you find their courtship display touching, arousing or plain hilarious depends on whether you’re a female booby. Stomping from one flappy azure foot to the other, males shrug their shoulders and lift their tails to the sky in a clumsy approximation of the flamenco.
 
In fairness, it clearly works – eggs continue to appear, so at least some of the ladies must be won over...
 
 
Philippa says: ‘A bit ponderous for my taste – the chemistry simply wasn’t there. You just look as if you’re going through the motions. But I love the way the costumes highlight the footwork – bravo, designer!’
 
The judges' scores are in:
 
Nick: 4
Philippa: 4
George: 4
Sophie: 5
 
Overall score: 17
 
 
 
5. Pacific rattlesnake
Signature style: Tango
 
To watch this dance in action, click here.
 
Reptiles may be cold-blooded, but if the stakes are high enough they can summon up a performance as fiery as the hottest tango. Male snakes of many species compete for mating rights with a display that is part dance, part combat – and 100 per cent theatre.
 
In North America during late summer, rival Pacific rattlesnakes can be seen squaring up. Each sparring partner raises the front part of its body and weaves from side to side, wriggling and writhing as it tries to get into position to force its opponent to the ground.
 
Well-matched combatants may sway in slow motion for an hour or more before the contest is finally decided. The larger snake usually wins and mates with the local females, so selection pressure favours greater size.
 
But however prolonged the battle, the fighters usually escape without a scratch: venom is never discharged.
 
 
Sophie says: ‘A bit slow to get into hold but once it did there were some super lines, great extension and good rise and fall. Fiercely elegant – like the Argentine tango, it was a real battle of wills!’
 
The judges' scores are in:
 
Nick: 5
Philippa: 4
George: 2
Sophie: 6
 
Overall score: 17
 

 

 
6. Great crested grebe
Signature style: Dance of the 7 weeds
 
To watch this dance in action, click here.
 
When sensuous moves, on-the-money timing, acrobatic leaps and extravagant headgear aren’t enough, it’s time to break open the props cupboard and add an extra dimension.
 
The great crested grebe is a dancer that loves to add glamour to what nature’s already bestowed. Come mating season, dark mascara and blusher are applied, with a show-stopping headdress to emphasise the drama.
 
With near-disdainful flicks of the head, the courting couple initially bob their beaks from side to side with a shake and a nod, completing the sequence with a touch of preening. The pas de deux continues as one extends its wings, the other diving, then rising again.
 
But the climax is yet to come: plunging beneath the surface, the pair dive to retrieve gifts – weeds and other nesting material, held proudly aloft as both birds stretch upwards, breasts pressed together.
 
It’s a touching show, demonstrating a commitment to the nuptial home that many humans might learn from.
 
 
Philippa says: ‘Beautiful symmetry and impressive moves! The use of props is somewhat hit-and-miss, but I could feel the chemistry between you – makes me wonder what’s going on behind the scenes...’
 

The judges' scores are in:

 
Nick: 7
Philippa: 8
George: 6
Sophie: 8
 
Overall score: 29
 

 

 
7. Red-crowned crane
Signature style: Capoeira
 
To watch this dance in action, click here.
 
Some dances are so acrobatic that they almost appear to be fighting moves – and so it is with the mesmerising courtship dance of red-crowned (or Japanese) cranes.
 
These leggy beauties – 1.5m tall, blessed with a dramatic costume of snow-white feathers, black neck and red cap – reinforce their commitment to their long-term partners with an athletic routine, leaping high off the ground, flapping and wheeling around, bobbing their heads and squawking en masse, creating quite a racket amid the snowy landscapes of Hokkaido.
 
And it’s not just the happy couple making a scene: entire flocks often join in, indulging in a feather-ruffling commotion that matches the best big-budget ensemble show dance. Is it love? Or is it just exuberance?
 
Either way, it’s an enthralling performance.
 
 
Nick says: ‘I can’t fault this performance at all – the whole dance had drama, elegance, great command and built nicely throughout. You knocked the feathers off the competition!’
 

The judges' scores are in:

 
Nick: 9
Philippa: 3
George: 5
Sophie: 7
 
Overall score: 24
 
 
8. White’s seahorse
Signature style: Waltz
 
To watch this dance in action, click here.
 
To enjoy the most sublime dancing in the ocean, you need to look beneath the waves. White’s seahorse, a species unique to the coast of south-eastern Australia, carries out an intimate balletic courtship as a prelude to mating.
 
The male and female – which, like other seahorses, maintain a lifelong monogamous pair bond – entwine their prehensile tails in a lengthy tryst, mirroring each other’s movements with gently fanning fins.
 
Before each dance the female undergoes a spectacular transformation, changing from a dowdy grey-brown fish to a sunflower-yellow beauty. After several days of courting, she finally transfers her eggs to the male’s pouch, or marsupium.
 
Appropriately enough, this underwater ballet is frequently staged in Sydney Harbour, just a pirouette from the famous Opera House.
 
 
Philippa says: ‘Just lovely – poise and elegance can never be overrated. The synchrony was a thing of beauty – a captivating performance. And who could resist the final flourish: the heart shape?’
 

The judges' scores are in:

 
Nick: 8
Philippa: 8
George: 6
Sophie: 7
 
Overall score: 29
 
 
AND THE WINNER IS (drum roll please!)... The honeybee
 
Like the best art, the bee’s performance is more than just a show – there’s real meaning. Austrian ethologist Karl von Frisch dedicated most of his working life to studying the species; he suggested that bees are able to navigate using the direction of the sun and the sky’s polarisation, as well as the Earth’s magnetic field.
 
And the waggle dance is, according to von Frisch’s research, the bee’s way of communicating instructions: the angle of the waggle in relation to the vertical axis of the hive indicates the direction of food, while the duration tells hivemates how far away it is.
 
Scientists claim that the use of arbitrary signals makes this the only true animal language. Style and content – unbeatable!
 
 

With an overall score of 30, the honeybee is top of our leaderboard.

 
Nick says: ‘Wow! If wiggling is sexy, then you have sex appeal in bucketloads. Of course, six legs and a high-energy diet help, but you really mesmerise the crowd.’
 
Philippa says: ‘Super-fast movements, perfectly in time – this is the kind of dancing that is just instinctive, and really engages the audience, too. A true triumph!’
 
George says: ‘Fab-u-lous, daaarling – this really had me buzzing! You told a good story with plenty of content and interpretation. Shake that booty, girl!’
 
Sophie says: ‘Fun, fast and first class – your samba had the lot! Tight moves, great rhythm, lots of bounce action and fluid shimmying. An award-winning performance.’
 

 

Over to you!

Judging wildlife dancing is subjective – it’s not easy to compare a bee with a booby – but our expert panel had a lot of fun deciding which they liked best. Did they get it right?

Let us know your opinions: email us or leave your comments on the forum.

We use cookies to improve your experience of our website. Cookies perform functions like recognising you each time you visit and delivering advertising messages that are relevant to you. Read more here