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The Most Unusual Boy Band In The World

If this were a movie pitch, nobody would buy it: Two guys decide to woo a lady. The lady they choose loves dancing, so they invent a dance — not a polite, gentle prance, not a foxtrot or a waltz, but a crazy, go-for-the-rafters series of leaps, where one of them flings himself up over the other, catapulting high in the air, then down, then back up again. They have no piano, no orchestra, so they vocalize, scatting beats between leaps, creating a spectacle so crazy, they hope to awe the lady into ... well, a swoon that says, "Yes."

But here's the craziest part: This lady is choosy, and she will only submit to a single wooer. Both gentlemen, therefore, cannot have a satisfying finish.

Mad With Desire, And Yet ...

So, against instinct, in an extraordinary display of deferred gratification, the younger of the two guys agrees, ahead of time, to do the dance and then — if the lady likes what she sees — he will tiptoe off, and allow the older male to satisfy his mating urge, while he (the younger one) sits all by himself dreaming of a day when he, too, will have sex. But in the meantime, he waits. And waits. These two males will dance together for years and years, wooing female after female.

It's a crazy display. Especially the climactic finish, with its final, extra-loud, "Ta-dah!" Who knows what Ginger Rogers felt when she first encountered Fred Astaire, but if you're a female long-tailed manakin, how could you not swoon just a little when these two rouge-tipped acrobats come hurtling out of the Costa Rican rainforest to do their dance of love? I'm not a bird, not a female, and not a ballet fan, but this is impressive ...

This top-gun arrangement never changes. The older male always gets the gal. "A pair of male long-tailed manakins may work together like this for five years, building up their jungle reputation as hot dancers, before the alpha male dies and the backup singer takes his place with a new apprentice," writes Noah Strycker in his new book, "The Thing With Feathers."They break up only when the older guy breaks down.

This is so unusual. Guys rarely subsume their egos this way. "It's the only example of cooperative male-male displays ever discovered in the entire animal kingdom," Noah writes.

It's common, of course, for males to get together to impress females. You can find them dancing together (as lizards do), croaking together (as frogs do), or singing together (as Hanson, the Jonas Brothers and 'N Sync did), but one imagines that each male in the group is kind of hoping the ladies will think him the cutest. Envy is the natural state of males competing for females. Ringo had to be jealous of Paul. But when long-tailed manakins dance, envy seems to disappear.

In the Costa Rican rainforest, it seems, the boy bands are singular.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Robert Krulwich works on radio, podcasts, video, the blogosphere. He has been called "the most inventive network reporter in television" by TV Guide.