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Dance vs Sports Floors

Sports v Dance

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 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 tendinitis, ‘shin splints,’ knee pain and ankle strain can all be attributed to incorrectly specified sprung floors and can take several weeks of physical therapy and recovery time to correct.

A Medical Opinion

Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Boni Rietveld, MD, BA (mus.) 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 Harlequin LibertyTM 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, which is taking the comparison to the extreme, but in certain cases, dancers have to face similar situations.”

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 fifty 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.


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). The Working Group consists of manufacturers, end-users, and specifiers. The Harlequin group is represented by American Harlequin Corporation. A new standard has been developed by this committee, broadly based on the German DIN 18032, Part II, but modified to reflect the interests of dancers and related stage performers. In June 2006 the initial section in draft form in English and with English terminology was open for public review, and this standard has now been adopted. Section, BSR E1.26, relates to shock absorption: “Recommended Testing Methods and Values for Shock Absorption of Floors Used in Live Performance Venues.” It cannot be assumed that if a product conforms to this standard it will automatically be approved by dancers, whose preferences vary. The standard will, however, provide 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. 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.

Permanently installed Dance Floors in Education

With major building refurbishment or a complete new build, an architect will usually be involved and it is essential the architect is both aware of the needs of dancers as well as the practical matters involved in integrating the new dance floor into the space. Because most architects will have experience with traditional flooring and possibly sports flooring, it is important that they are briefed about the specific needs of dance and aware of the importance of specifying floors designed for the purpose. Although general-purpose wood floors may be aesthetically pleasing and architecturally attractive, they are not suited to dance, offering neither traction nor spring. Sports floors and commercial or industrial floors on the other hand have entirely unsuitable characteristics. Fortunately, with the assistance of Harlequin’s Architect’s Guide, the differences are thoroughly explained.

Specifying Dance Floors

A glimpse inside the guide gives an indication of some of the building and construction related issues the architect will need to consider, as well as ensuring that the needs of the dancers, who will actually use the floor, are met. Matters such as type of dance and questions as to whether the floor should be sprung have been covered in previous parts of this series but, be it a refurbishment project or complete new build, normal design criteria for floors will apply.