More Than Just a Floor

When the Chicago High School for the Arts prepared to move in 2011, one of the many questions that needed answering was what kind of floor systems to use in its dance studios and other spaces.

It’s telling that Chris Smith, the school’s coordinator for special projects and outreach, quickly notes a theme at the core of the matter for educators at the school and others going through the process of acquiring flooring systems for budding dancers. There’s “a lack of give on wooden stages or concrete floors,” Smith says, which calls for “something that absorbs some of the energy of bodies jumping and dancing through the space. (It) is essential for the safety of performers.”

After safety, there are other key aspects. A good starting point, as supplier American Harlequin says, is to think through “what type of dance will be taught on the floor and should the floor be permanent or temporary.”

Also envision what kind of flooring may be versatile enough to accommodate a wider range of dance types, in order to serve your program’s purposes — and help fortify and grow your dance program — in the future.

Providing a point of leverage to help young dancers, both physically and educationally, was one of the things that Stacey Enyart was thinking about when her school started the process of acquiring a new subfloor system.

Enyart, director of the Dance department at Wesley Chapel High School in Florida, explains,“Last year, we were working on carpet.” After the school term, Enyart led an effort to have that carpet removed and the 1,000-square-foot dance space flooring tiled and prepared for a rubberized roll-out subfloor product by Greatmats. Delivered in January, the subfloor was placed above a newly tiled floor and beneath a Harlequin roll-out Marley style vinyl surface. Enyart says the solution is right in part, “because should we ever move to a different space, we can easily pick up the product and take it with us.”

A different process unfolded at the Chicago High School for the Arts, although its move is not uncommon for schools with performing arts flooring systems, which may change rooms or building locations at some point. Accordingly, what to do about its studio floors?

“Our executive and artistic director worked with our department heads… to come up with the specific needs, and then worked with an architect and design/construction team contracted by CPS to create our space,” Smith says.

The school went with wooden sprung floors in its eight dance studios. The supplier was O’Mara. Smith describes a system with a sprung subfloor covered with a Marley style sheet vinyl surface. “The subfloor comes in large panels and requires great care to accurately install. The panels are unfinished, so we lay Marley over the top. It has to be taped down and cleaned very carefully to ensure longevity.”

The school is pleased with the floor, which is durable enough to enable other uses. “During the academic day, many of the spaces with sprung floors double over as physical education classrooms, although, of course, students can’t wear non-dance shoes in the space,” says Smith.

Along that line, large supplier Harlequin points out that indoor sports activities typically “require a high degree of energy return and a requirement for adequate ball bounce, which is not the case in dance floors. Dancers are focused on a different combination of shock absorption and energy return.” Another factor to consider: sports athletes typically wear cushioned footwear, but not dancers, who may be clad in dance shoes or be barefoot, Harlequin points out.

O’Mara has also supplied flooring for various clients, including performing arts programs at a number of educational institutions. President Ed O’Mara notes trends he’s seen among those educational institutions, including: “vying for space;” an interest in fast, convenient installation; and floor systems that can move with programs, which may be changing rooms or buildings, such as was the case with the aforementioned Chicago school.

Whatever the grade level or supplier, safety for budding dancers’ joints and durability is paramount. Add affordability and versatility — that is, a system that accommodates a range of movements, routines and dance genres — and the right flooring solution may be at hand, and underfoot.

Back at Wesley Chapel High, there was another dimension to the process. As Enyart explains: “I felt it was important to get the students involved in the process. They researched different products, got feedback from fellow peers and additional studio spaces and created a presentation on the importance of a great system. Then they presented to various committees to receive the funding.”

The student presentation is a well-organized depiction of the dance department and its flooring need. It’s also telling of some factors that other middle and high schools may be encountering; for example, growing interest in “ballet and male hip-hop for athletes.”

And as the budding dancers at Wesley argued, “Practicing dance in an ideal environment promotes physical well-being by increasing one’s flexibility, strength, coordination and gracefulness.” And it all starts from the ground up.

Scott Berman is a freelance writer with experience in educational topics. 

About the Author

Scott Berman is a freelance writer with experience in educational topics.