Why Do We Dance When We Need to Pee?

An expert in human urination takes a scientific look at the pee-pee jiggle.

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We’ve all done the pee dance—when you have to go so badly you can’t help but do a weird little dance to hold it in until you reach the toilet. But does bobbing up and down and gyrating actually minimize that feeling of a soon-to-burst bladder? Dr. Muhammad Mirza, expert in all things below the belt, points to what are called rhythmic displacement behaviors to provide us with some answers.

Here’s how it works: When you’re faced with a conflict—say, the urgent desire to pee versus the fact that you’re nowhere near a toilet or facing a 20-minute wait for the only bathroom (and most importantly, don’t want to pee your pants in front of everyone)—your mind attempts to divert your attention from the conflict by encouraging you to perform any number of unrelated displacement behaviors, like dancing. This is also why we scratch our heads or bite our nails when faced with a tough decision: We’re subconsciously distracting ourselves from the problem at hand.

The extent to which we nervously fidget is also directly related to how conflicted we are in that moment: We might scratch our head when asked whether we’d like a small or large soda, but since wetting ourselves in front of everyone at the bar is a far more dire consequence, that prompts us to perform a full-on breakdance routine.

Now, on to the more important question: Does dancing actually lessen our urge to pee? “While it might momentarily mask our desire, from a neurobiological perspective, the alarm is on—our sensors are still telling us that our bladder needs to be emptied,” Mirza explains. In other words, your brain is going to keep reminding you to relieve yourself whether you’re dancing or not. In fact, remaining still and calm is actually a more comfortable way to avoid peeing your pants, since it doesn’t apply so much random jiggly pressure to the bladder.

If you find yourself doing the pee dance often, know that holding in urine for extended periods of time may have some unfortunate long-term effects, like urinary retention (that is, the inability to empty your bladder completely) and increased risk of infection. Rather than dealing with any of that mess, make your way to the toilet before you really have to go—if for no other reason than that no one wants to watch a grown man do the “I Gotta Go Potty” Shuffle.