How To Specify Show-Stopping Performance Flooring

Dance/USA is very grateful to American Harlequin for its Title Sponsorship of the 2010 Annual Conference. In recognition of American Harlequin’s generous support, Bob Dagger, its president, was invited to contribute the following article to From the Green Room.

For performing arts professionals, one of the most important aspects of a venue is the flooring. Not only does the stage surface contribute to performers’ safety, but it is also a significant factor in the overall aesthetic of a space.

When in the market for a new stage floor it is essential that the following questions be answered in the initial stage of the specification process to ensure that the most appropriate flooring is selected:

  • What is my budget?
  • What is the facility’s subfloor?
  • What is the size of the space?
  • Will the floor need to be permanent or portable?
  • Will the floor need to support multi-purpose activities, such as dance shows, dramatic performances and concerts where heavy scenery is used?

Surface Selection
After outlining the space’s flooring needs, it is time to decide on the surface best suited for the activities the venue will host. The two basic surface options include:

1. Wood:
Hardwood (e.g., maple, beech, oak): The established option that offers a visually attractive appeal, hardwood can require continuous and costly maintenance, with re-sanding and sealing required every few years. If waxes or incorrect seals are applied, the floor can also pose a significant slip hazard.

Softwood (e.g., pine, fir, spruce): Softwood should never be used as an unprotected performance surface, as it is easily damaged and can splinter. However, it is an acceptable sub-surface because it provides more “give” than a hardwood floor.

2. Synthetics: Now the industry standard in performance flooring, synthetics are flexible, vinyl surfaces that can be unrolled over most surfaces for instant performing arts floors.

From Ballet to Bach: Accommodating All Activities
Specifiers need to decide whether the performance space will be used for other activities besides dance. If the space will also be used for theatrical performances or will support instrumentalists with heavy equipment, it might be best to choose a loose-laid or semi-permanent floor that can be removed periodically as necessary.

If it is decided that a permanent dance floor is the best solution, specifiers must decide on the type of dance for which the floor will be used. For most types of dance a slip-resistant surface with a sprung sub-floor is the best option. Sprung dance floors are designed to return energy to the performers to give them the extra lift they require to complete strenuous leaps and at the same time absorb shock and eliminate any “trampoline effect.”

However, if the performance floor needs to survive the rigors of tap and other percussive dance or a barrage of heavy stage equipment, the sprung floor needs judicious reinforcement or blocking, and an extra hard-wearing but slip-resistant dance surface. This more versatile and highly-specialized heavy-duty vinyl should be considered for facilities with performance spaces that house both dance and theatrical performances.

Ensuring Performers Don’t “Break a Leg”
Important to any performer is the issue of safety. As such, several questions should be considered pertaining to flooring for performing arts spaces:

Does the flooring have a non-slip surface? Avoid the unhealthy chance of the janitorial department waxing the floor to a high shine, which can increase the risk of someone slipping and sustaining serious injuries. Specify a vinyl dance floor with a matte or satin slip-resistant surface to prevent falls, and ensure the dance floor supplier also provides a detailed maintenance schedule.

What are the installation procedures? Correctly installing the dance flooring can support years of performances for a studio, whereas an oversight within the installation process can cause considerable disruption in a dance studio’s schedule. Consult a flooring professional who can assess the needs of the individual space and install the floor according to the manufacturer’s recommended procedures to avoid disfiguring lumps, ripples, poor joins and general trip hazards.

What type of maintenance does the floor need? Properly maintaining performance flooring is essential for its long life. Permanent vinyl flooring installation offers impermeable welded seams to waterproof and seal the floor. Some vinyls also have soil-resistant surfaces for easy cleaning and hygienic surfaces.

The options for dance flooring are as endless as the performances they support, but for each the question remains: Is this the best flooring available for these specifications? Performance flooring must always ensure safety, quality and lasting aesthetics.

Bob Dagger is the president of American Harlequin Corporation (Harlequin). A world leader in floors for  the performing arts, Harlequin’s experience and reputation have been built on providing dance floors that offer low maintenance with a long trouble-free life. For stage, television and motion picture performers as well as exhibitors, American Harlequin also has a complete line of resilient display floors to suit every occasion. For more information, visit the company’s website at or follow Harlequin on Twitter @HarlequinDance.


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