Improving Dance Floors

Improving Dance Floors

The Healthier Dancer Programme (HDP) continually advocates awareness of the importance that dance flooring plays in dancers’ health. In 2003, Harlequin, world leaders in dance floor technology for over 25 years and one of Britain’s key dance businesses nationally and internationally, gave evidence to the 2003 / 04 Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee focusing on dance.

Following the publication of the Dance Manifesto, Harlequin visited us to talk about the company’s own campaign to raise the profile of the importance of suitable dance floors, which links in with specific key goals identified in the Dance Manifesto.

The ambition to place dance at the heart of our communities, available for everyone to participate in, must be tied-in with ensuring that every community has access to suitable dance spaces with safe appropriate flooring. To do this, local councillors and town planners need to be made aware of the importance of special flooring for dance activities. Also, the manifesto goal for government to continue to support the creation and maintenance of new specialist dance studios and theatres must ensure these new spaces are built with the correct flooring. This is particularly important now in the run up to London 2012, when new buildings will be created for the Olympics. It is imperative that all new buildings are properly planned and architects are briefed, so that they will create spaces suitable for use for dance after the Olympics.

The following article by Harlequin explains the basic considerations about suitable dance floors and why sports or commercial flooring, and some types of wood floor, are unsuitable and potentially dangerous as dance floors. For further details on the design of floors for dance, architect Mark Foley’s book Dance Floors is published by and available from One Dance UK.

Considerations on choosing a dance floor

In specifying a dance floor there are some basic considerations, some of which may require discussion with Harlequin and, of course, budget will generally dictate final choice.

1. Type of dance
• Ballet
• Modern/contemporary
• Jazz (stage dance)
• Tap/percussive
• A combination of the above
• Other: e.g. hip hop, flamenco, ballroom, ethnic/folk

2. Permanent or temporary
• Are you likely to move elsewhere in the foreseeable future?
• Is the floor to be loose-laid or permanent? e.g. in a theatre or multipurpose facility?
• If you are a tenant, you may be unable within the terms of the lease to install a floor permanently.
• Will the floor be used for touring?

3. Should the floor be sprung?
With increasing awareness of Health & Safety legislation, it is advisable to consider the possibility of a sprung floor, even if building construction and budget eventually preclude it. Traditionally, however, sprung floors have focused on indoor sports and athletics and the differences between dance and sports floors and the need to know how to differentiate are considered later in this article.

4. New build or existing building
• Normal design criteria apply e.g.
• Moisture barriers
• Floor strength/construction
• Dance floor thickness/weight
• Ceiling height
• Door swing, ramps required?
• Floor mounted dance barres
• Heating system (underfloor?).

Key elements of a dance floor

The key elements of a dance floor comprise building floor construction and the dance floor system to be laid on it. The sub-floor may be solid or suspended – anything from a quarry-tiled screed to a suspended wood floor with carpet. It is beyond the scope here to offer design solutions to all combinations, put generally they can be found. Sprung floors exist in Harlequin’s range which may be laid directly onto carpet or onto evenly smooth-tamped concrete – a phone call or e-mail to Harlequin’s Technical Sales team (0800 28 99 32) will help pinpoint the correct solution.

Whether or not you decide upon a sprung subfloor, you will need to specify the working surface of the dance floor – a most important component. Whilst wood floors are still generally accepted for ballroom, folk and social dance, they have not been the preference of most artistic dancers for over a quarter of a century. Wood in its various forms and finishes (for instance waxed, urethane lacquered or merely sanded) is normally found to be an unpredictable surface for professional dancers. There are people who insist on a wood finish for mixed use and this finish is offered as an option with Harlequin sprung floors.

Dance floor surfaces are various constructions of vinyl sheet, differing critically from commercial vinyls in that they are formulated to give controlled slip resistance. They are, however, not virtually ‘non-slip’ like some rubber floors, a property which blocks movement and is a hazard to dancers.

A note of caution. It is estimated that over a third of commercial vinyl floors are classified as safety floors i.e. slip-resistant, especially in wet conditions, and it would be tempting to think of them as “safe” for dance. But this slip-resistant property is variously achieved by the addition of coarse abrasive components and/or cork, frequently enhanced by a distinct surface emboss. All of these modifications are the abomination of dancers, who require a smooth and relatively soft surface to avoid abrasion and skin burns.

Over more than a quarter of a century Harlequin has meticulously developed seven vinyl dance floors, four of them compact (i.e. non-cushioned) and the other three having varying qualities of foam backing, both to give slip resistance and point elasticity. Harlequin can make indicative recommendations, based on experience and dancers’ preferences. There are exceptions to almost every recommendation. We strongly advise that you request samples and Harlequin invite detailed discussion if you have queries.

Tap is a particularly aggressive form of dance, and you should be aware that worn and loose screws and taps will damage any dance floor sooner or later so it is important to be vigilant with students’ footwear.

Dance floors v. sports floors

It is a common assumption that a welI-designed sports floor will suit the needs of dancers, but there are two intrinsic differences: the construction of the sprung sub-floor and the performance surface.

The sprung sub-floor

Along with some shock absorption, most indoor sports require a high degree of energy return and a requirement for adequate ball bounce, Evidently, dancers have scant interest in ball bounce, but they are vitally focused in a different way on a combination of shock absorption and energy return. There are no hard and fast rules but it is clear that female dancers tend towards shock absorption without any ‘sponginess’ – whereas the men appreciate a dance floor with more “spring” for their often more energetic choreography. Indoor sports people can tolerate a stiffer floor, they usually have cushioned footwear – a luxury barred to dancers.

The performance surface

The main criterion for dancers of the performance surface is slip resistance, disconcertingly dubbed ‘traction’ by many in the dance community, Although sports people share the abhorrence of the risk of slipping and falling, they again are generally protected by their footwear from floors that might be considered a slip hazard for dancers, for example some hard lacquered wood floors. Lower limb problems such as tendonitis, ‘shin splints’, knee pain and ankle strain can all be attributed to incorrectly specified sprung floors and can take several weeks of physiotherapy and recovery time to correct.

A word about wood finishes

Historically the choice was between a wooden floor and linoleum, until the advent of purpose developed vinyls during the 1970’s. Although it may be tempting to opt for a wood surface purely for aesthetic reasons, or a commercial grade vinyl for reasons of cost, today there are many options specifically designed for dance. A well-installed hardwood sprung floor, properly finished and maintained, does look attractive and specifically for ballroom dancing is a desirable option. Softwood floors are rarely an option because even with a lacquered surface they are too readily susceptible to damage, gouging and splintering. With correct preparation and sealing softwood floors can indeed provide a very acceptable sub-floor on which to install a Harlequin dance surface. As a practical and commercial measure, Harlequin sprung floors are normally finished with FG plywood or MDF prior to the application of a Harlequin dance floor surface.

Unfinished pine floors are still in use in some traditional Russian dance studios, notably the famous Vaganova Academy in St. Petersberg, but as finances allow, Harlequin dance floors are progressively being installed to cover them.

Semi-sprung or sprung?

The desire for a floor with “give” was accelerated by the fashion in ballroom dancing before and after the Second World War. These floors often used coil or leaf springs and, as genuinely sprung floors were too bouncy for ballet or contemporary artistic dance, the need to provide semi-sprung floors led to considerable modifications.
In the last fifty years metal springs have largely given way to resilient blocks or pads made of rubbers or polymers. With modern floor construction methods the ‘trampoline’ effect of early sprung floors has been suppressed and these modern floors for both sports and dance are generally referred to as semi-sprung. Nevertheless, the distinction has been forgotten and for convenience we loosely refer to both types of floor as sprung floors.

To get a free copy of ‘The Harlequin Guide to Dance Floors’ or ‘Specifying Dance Floors; A Guide for Architects’ contact British Harlequin on 01892 514888, or request online from Harlequin Floors.