Making a Safe Space for Dance
K–12 teachers go to the mat for proper floors.
Teaching dance in a K–12 setting often means holding classes in hallways or cafeterias, sharing space with other student groups or dealing with ceilings that are too low for jumps. Even dedicated studio spaces often lack the kind of shock-absorbing floors that help prevent chronic injury.
“From tile flooring to marley laid on concrete, we’ve danced on it,” says Teresa L. Baker, who now has a wood sprung floor in her Beaufort High School studio in South Carolina. “There are always complaints of pain in the feet and legs after dancing on a floor not designed for dance.”
So, as a public school dance educator, what can you do? DT spoke with Baker and two other teachers who successfully secured funding for proper floors.
When Lynn C. Reynolds, chair of the dance department at West Briar Middle School in Houston, walked into her new 20′ x 40′ dance room just two weeks before classes started, she found tile flooring on top of a concrete flat and no mirrors. The principal did purchase mirrors before classes started, “but we danced on that cement flat for that entire first year,” she says, adding that she taught four 90-minute classes daily for students in grades six to eight. “I would go home aching every single day.”
She did what she could to help protect her students from injury, many of whom also studied several hours a week at local dance studios. “You cannot have your students doing what we’re used to doing in a regular studio,” she says. “I tried to adapt movement, and I didn’t have them go across the floor with leaps or even turns for an extended period.”
After that school year, Reynolds talked to the principal, and when he heard about the physical stresses the tile/cement floor was causing, he agreed to fund a proper floor.
But getting the backing or funds isn’t always that easy. Baker suggests urging parents and students to be vocal advocates. “Keep track of injuries and document floor issues,” she says. “Go to your board of education and provide research on proper flooring for all physical activities.”
Once Reynolds received financial clearance, she contacted a local contractor, who designed and built a modified floating floor during the summer. First he laid down plywood sheets, followed by 4′ x 4′, 1/2″-thick carpet pads. Next came a lattice-work of 8′ strips of 1″ x 4″ wood, and another layer of plywood, topped with 1/8″ vinyl flooring (with a wood appearance). Around the edges, he tacked 3/4″ rounds to keep everything secure. “It cost a little under $6,000, and everything was bought at the hardware store,” Reynolds says. “It took two people and 50 hours of work.”
Ten years later and with 150-plus students each year, Reynolds’ floor is still in good shape. She allows the custodians to mop it occasionally, and to dry-mop it regularly.
Baker says it’s imperative to have district support when it comes to proper maintenance. “How your wood floor is finished should be determined by the dance program,” she says, adding that her floor was recently refinished, but the company hired was prepared to apply a polyurethane finish—like a gym floor—which would have made it quite sticky. “After many phone calls, we finally came to an agreement, and the company put a very watered-down polyurethane finish on the floor. They then buffed it out and left us with a smooth matte finish that provides protection for the floor, yet the ability to move without sticking to it.”
It took several years of petitioning for South Carolina high school dance teacher Melissa McCrary to finally get a suitable studio floor. “I have been told for the past four years that it will be in the budget for ‘next year,’” she says. “It was finally in the budget for this school year, but no one told us about it until December.” At press time they were getting bids from vendors, and she’s already prepared to protect her district’s investment: “I will not be allowing anyone else to be in the room without my supervision. I will, at any cost, protect the new floor after they spend that much money on the purchase and installation.” DT
Hannah Maria Hayes is a NYC freelance writer with an MA in dance education, American Ballet Theatre pedagogy emphasis, from New York University.
What Exactly Does “Adequate” Mean?
Requesting funds for a sprung floor or other dance space necessities from your principal or school board? Guidelines from the National Association of Schools of Dance can help support your request. NASD defines adequate space as meeting or exceeding the following specifications:
• Unobstructed space, providing a minimum of 2,400 square feet overall, and providing a minimum of 100 square feet per dancer.
• Ceiling height of at least 15 feet.
• Floors with the necessary resilience for dance (i.e., sprung or floating floor) and with surfacing appropriate to the nature of the dance activity.
• Adequate fenestration, lighting, acoustical ambiance and ventilation.
• Adequate mirrors and barres.
• Adequate locker rooms, showers, drinking fountains, restrooms and access to first aid.
Dance Floor Manufacturers
• Entertainment Flooring Systems, flooradvice.com
• Gerstung International, gerstung.com
• Harlequin Floors, harlequinfloors.com
• O’Mara Sprung Floors, sprungfloors.com
• Rosco, roscodancefloors.com
• Stagestep, stagestep.com
Photo by Curtis Mack Polk, courtesy of West Briar Middle School