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Fight club: Most bar brawls begin on the dance floor

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If you're the dance floor of a crowded bar - watch out for fisticuffs, says a new study.

By Cari Nierenberg

If you shake your booty on the dance floor of a crowded bar, you could be in for a world of hurt. And your lousy dance moves are not to blame. 

A recent study shows that the dance floor is the most likely place for fights to break out inside a large drinking establishment. The findings suggest that roughly 20 percent of the most harmful incidents took place on the floor itself; another 13 percent of them occurred near it.

The research, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review, looked at "hotspots" for aggression in bars and clubs.

In the study, researchers made more than 1,300 visits to 118 bars and clubs in Toronto over a two-year period. They went to bars that could hold more than 300 people, and they went on Fridays and Saturdays between midnight and 3 a.m.

Researchers observed the customers for aggressive behaviors, and they rated them on a scale of 1 (minor non-physical harm) to 5 (actions causing pain, including punching and kicking). They even gauged how intoxicated the customers seemed that night.

They found that the dance floor was the top spot for aggressive behavior. "There's a lot of sexual aggression and aggressive horseplay on the dance floor in late night, large-capacity bars and night clubs," says study author Kathryn Graham, a senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.

Sometimes it was just sheer numbers -- the dance floor was the most crowded place on the premises and this sparked more incidents. And partly it was because that's where the most rowdiness between dancers and even bystanders took place.

But Graham was a little surprised that the area at or near the serving bar was the second most common location for bad behavior. She figures this was mainly a traffic and congestion issue.

Tempers there could also flare between patrons and staff over drink service. And when hot heads get hammered, it can get ugly.

"I suspect that a lot of the aggression near the serving bar was in the form of male-to-male violence where egos are on the line when people get bumped," says Graham.

Then again, "It may also be that this is a good place to hang around if you're looking for trouble," she adds.

While the dance floor was the #1 hotspot for aggressive behavior and the space near the serving bar was second, the tables came in third. This was followed by the hallways, aisles, and stairs in fourth, the entrance was fifth, and the pool tables were sixth.

Although only 4 percent of incidents took place at pool tables, the area had a high rate of barroom brawls likely brought on by people's competitive juices mixing with alcohol.

So, when you head out for a night on the town, now you'll know the high-risk locations at your favorite watering hole. And feel free to pass along this research to the bar staff so they'll keep things from getting out of hand in these potential trouble spots.

The worst fights? They took place outside the bar, of course.

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