Educating architects - Why dance floors are different to sports floors
It is a common assumption that a well-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 focussed 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 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 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 vinyl floors during the 1970s. Although it may be tempting to opt for a wood floor for purely 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 dance 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. However, with correct preparation and sealing, softwood floors can indeed provide a very acceptable sub-floor on which to install a Harlequin vinyl floor.