K–12 teachers go to the mat for proper floors.

West Briar Middle School students now dance on a
resilient surface, thanks to their teacher Lynn Reynolds.

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.

nasd.arts-accredit.org

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

Protect yourself in acro class.

Ashlie Wells (left) uses a second spotter
during advanced exercises.

Early in her teaching career, Joanne Chapman struggled with regular neck pain and couldn’t figure out what was causing it. “I went to the chiropractor and he said, ‘You must be lifting something really heavy, because your second and third vertebrae are literally compressed together,’” says Chapman, who owns Joanne Chapman School of Dance in Brampton, Ontario. “And then I realized—it’s from spotting my acrobats.”

As an acrobatics teacher, your top priority is keeping your students safe. But caring for students’ bodies can come at a cost if you’re not taking equal precautions to protect your own. The heavy and repetitive action of spotting is taxing and could eventually cause injury.

Chiropractic sports practitioner Dr. Corey Lichtman, who works with acro-trained dancers and spotters in California, says most spotters complain about their neck, lower back and shoulders—all areas that are vulnerable to any form of heavy lifting. “Teachers have a tough job,” he says. “They risk their own bodies to ensure that the student is safe.”

Supporting Students’ Weight

In the same way students should warm up for class, it’s important to prepare your shoulders, arms, abdominals and legs before spotting. This helps you adopt a solid stance and work from your core, instead of your limbs. Ashlie Wells, artistic director of the Dothan School of Dance in Dothan, Alabama, stands in a wide parallel plié while assisting stationary stunts like back walkovers, so she can take the student’s weight in her legs. This also helps her move quickly in any direction a student might fall. Chapman, however, prefers to kneel on one knee, which helps her own alignment while taking the student’s weight into her arms rather than her back or neck.

Either way, try to stay as close to the student as possible, spotting from her working side. Though it positions you closer to flying limbs, staying close allows you to brace your arms near your body, where you can provide the most support with the least amount of effort. It also helps you maintain good posture, since reaching far for a student carries you off of your center of gravity.

Getting Help

During more advanced exercises, you may benefit from having a second spotter stand directly across from you. Team spotters can either mirror each other’s arm movements or assign areas of the student’s body to protect. For instance, in a walkover, one spotter might be in charge of the student’s hips while the other assists the kickoff. “If something happens mid-trick or your arm gives out, a second spotter can make up for it,” says Wells. She prefers to have three spotters in the studio at a time, so they can rotate and rest between students.

During flying exercises, Chapman twists up a large beach towel lengthwise and loops it around the student’s waist, holding the ends. This ensures that the student won’t pull away from her, so she won’t have to reach out suddenly and support weight from a vulnerable position. It also distributes the student’s weight more evenly between her arms, reducing the strain on her own body. Other props, such as mini-trampolines and wedge mats, use elevation and gravity to train students without relying solely on your strength. DT

Ashley Rivers is a dancer and writer in Boston.

Injury Prevention

Chiropractic sports practitioner Dr. Corey Lichtman says teachers should cross-train to keep muscles in balance, since spotting often overworks one side of the body and is hard on the joints. “It just comes down to taking care of your own body, so that you can take care of others,” he says. Perform these exercises three to four times a week.

Pelvic Stabilizer:

(10 reps with each leg, 2–3 sets)

Tie a resistance band circling two inches above your knees. Squat to 45 degrees in parallel. Keeping the knees bent, step a few inches directly right with your right leg. Follow slowly with your left, returning to the original position.

 

 

Squats:

(15–20 reps, 2–3 sets)

Squeeze a soccer ball or dodgeball between your thighs and perform basic squats so the knees make a 90-degree angle. This activates your adductor muscles and stabilizes the patella.

 

 

 

 

External Rotator Stabilizer:

(15–20 reps, 2–3 sets)

Tie one end of a resistance band to a barre. Standing with the barre at your right, hold the band in your left hand, hugging the elbow to your side at a 90-degree angle and your forearm in front of you, parallel to the barre. With the elbow as an axis, rotate your lower arm directly to the side before returning to your starting position.

Screen shot 2013-05-31 at 4.23.41 PM

 

Lateral Pull-Down:

(15–20 reps, 2–3 sets)

Hold both ends of a resistance band with arms overhead. Bend arms and pull down until your elbows are bent at 90 degrees. Slowly return to starting position.

Top photo courtesy of Ashlie Wells; exercise photos by Amy Kelkenberg, modeled by Maya Barad

A study shows dance-related injuries in kids and teens increased a whopping 37% between 1991 and 2007. Most injuries were caused by falls or sprains/strains.

Researchers theorize the spike is due to young dancers logging longer hours in the studio and advancing more quickly. We want our dancers to work hard and learn as much as possible, but only when safety is a top priority.

Stay tuned for the latest from DT on maintaining a safe studio environment. In the meantime, here are a few of our best articles on injury prevention. Let's bring those numbers down!

10 Common Dance Injuries (and how to prevent them!)

Safe Stretching: Five ways to help students properly increase their flexibility

When Bodies Change: Help your dancers stay injury-free during puberty.

Safety First: Maintaining a safe space for your staff members and students

First Aid Kit 101: Prepare for emergencies with a well-stocked studio.

Photo copyright iStockphoto.com/carlo dapino

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