Dance vs. Sports Floor

The sub-floor

Along with some shock absorption, most indoor sports require a high degree of energy return and a requirement for adequate ball bounce. Dancers have little interest in ball bounce, but they are vitally focused in energy return. Indoor sports people can tolerate a stiffer floor as they usually have cushioned footwear — a luxury barred to dancers.

The performance surface

Here, the main criterion for dancers is slip resistance, disconcertingly dubbed “traction” by many in the dance community. Although athletes share the risk of slipping and falling, they are generally protected by their footwear. Lower limb problems such as tendinitis, shin splints, knee pain and ankle strain can all be attributed to incorrectly specified sprung floors.

A medical opinion

Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Boni Rietveld, M.D., B.A., of the Medical Center for Dancers and Musicians in The Hague, offers his opinion that, “a dance floor should be neither too supple nor too soft. A hard floor has the effect of causing serious return shock waves and can bring about injuries or premature wear in the cartilage. A soft floor causes the muscles, and therefore the tendons, to work harder. Additionally, a floor that is too soft can be dangerous for dancers because of the effect of surprise. To illustrate my point: I invite anyone to jump on my sprung floor panel in the clinic and then on the concrete floor next to it; all will experience the effect of surprise. It is like jumping on a trampoline and then on a tiled floor.”

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 far too bouncy for ballet or contemporary artistic dance, the need to provide semi-sprung floors — particularly for ballet — led to considerable modifications. In the last 50 years, metal springs have largely given way to resilient blocks or pads made of rubbers or polymers. With modern floor construction methods, the bouncy effect of the 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.

Standards

If you are working through an architect, being clear about the importance of specifying a floor with the right characteristics for dance can avoid expensive rectification at a later date. For many products specified by an architect it is normal to demand that they meet the appropriate standards. The absence of standards for dance floors was noted by the US-based organization Entertainment Services Technical Association (ESTA) and a Working Group was set up to establish an international standard to be adopted by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). A new standard, modified to reflect the interests of dancers and related stage performers, was developed by this committee. Section, BSR E1.26, relates to shock absorption: “Recommended Testing Methods and Values for Shock Absorption of Floors Used in Live Performance Venues.” This standard provides protection to specifiers and manufacturers in the form of consensual test data. In order to provide useful guidance to architects, a free comprehensive guidance booklet - Specifying Dance Floors: A Guide for Architects - is available from Harlequin Floors at us.harlequinfloors.com. This not only explains how floors are currently tested, but also provides a collection of useful information when specifying a dance floor whether to refurbish an existing space or for a completely new build project.

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of School Planning & Management.

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