Designing a Safer Future for Dancers

Dance/USA is very grateful to American Harlequin for its Title Sponsorship of the 2012 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.

By Bob Dagger

Dancing is an art that takes a lifetime to perfect — and just a moment to lose. In fact, according to the Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, more than 80 percent of dancers experience injury during their careers, with some grave enough to end an individual’s role as a dancer forever. It is these numbers that make those behind the stage question what steps need to be taken to improve the dance floor — the integral component of a dance environment — to protect the welfare of performers and ensure they have long, healthy careers ahead.

The following explains how researchers, dancers and flooring providers are taking an evidence-based design approach to keep dancers on their toes and out of trouble.

Standing Up After the Fall
Emerging dance scientist Luke Hopper, PhD, currently lectures students at The University of Notre Dame Australia about exercise and musculoskeletal and clinical biomechanics research. While he now stands tall in front of the classroom, there was once a time he was positioned center stage as a dancer.

“I entered into a scientific discipline after stopping dance due to injury — which is, unfortunately, not an unfamiliar story,” said Hopper. “When I began my university studies, I was motivated to improve my understanding of dancer wellness after being frustrated by my injury.” Turning his frustration into a reinvigorated passion to protect future dancers, Hopper conducted vast research centered on the dance floor, including a study on whether dancers perceive specific changes in floor surface properties and if these perceptions relate to injury. To implement this research, Hopper used 3-D motion analysis techniques to measure dancers’ movements and performance landings on different dance floors. A key finding indicated that hard floors (opposed to those with sprung support) may be associated with an increased risk of injury to the ankle joint.

“Considering the time dancers spend on dance surfaces, it is obvious that they need the support of a suitable floor in order to optimize the training environment,” said Hopper. “Although it may be easy to compare a dance floor to a sports floor, the requirements dancers have for the surface they use for training are really quite unique.”

Through his involvement with the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS), Hopper found many individuals shared his commitment to better serving the dance community. In fact, Hopper believes the field of dance science is gaining strong momentum as the organization continues to pursue academic and clinical research and studies in support of dance safety.

A Lesson for Future Dancers
Like Hopper, James Hackney, PhD, assistant professor of physical therapy at Missouri State University, is also evaluating the effects dance flooring poses on those who use it. Hackney is not only conducting research related to dance flooring; he’s giving dancers an opportunity to see its impact firsthand.

Hackney, who practiced as a physical therapist for nearly 20 years, created a scholarship for dance majors looking to further their knowledge about the serious impact flooring can have on performers and their performances through participation in his biomechanics course.

Results acquired from this research may not only yield further insight for future flooring solutions, but may also change the way dancers think about their well-being and influences thereof.

In addition to passing the lesson of safety on to the next generation of performers, Hackney uses deep-rooted expertise in kinesiology, biomechanics, and sports physical therapy to help flooring providers provide high-quality, research-based dance floor solutions that promote physical comfort.

Building the Foundation for Healthy Dance Careers
When it comes to providing a healthy flooring solution, some providers are going straight to the end users for feedback. During product development, dancers are asked to share their flooring preferences so providers can quite literally build a customized option around their needs. The result is a dance floor with advanced properties, including area elasticity, shock absorption, uniform suspension and slip resistance, to reduce injury risk without limiting a diverse dance portfolio.

“We incorporate an evidence-based design approach for all Harlequin dance flooring solutions – from our Liberty™ sprung dance floor panels to our WoodSpring™ sprung dance floors — to ensure the relationship between floor quality and dancers’ health continues to evolve,” said Patricia Basileo, vice president of Harlequin.

Beyond the needs of the dancer, providers are also integrating elements to support stagehands and staff that are not on the front line, including lightweight panels, easy installation, and low-maintenance and hygienic vinyl surfaces. These flooring options, which can also withstand heavy theatrical scenery and equipment, continue to promote safety for all involved to ensure a seamless performance night after night.

“It is no longer the case of a one-size-fits-all dance floor,” said Hopper. “The production of a dance floor is a real balancing act in order to provide the performance characteristics required by dancers as well as the stability required by the technical staff backstage.”

Keeping Safety Center Stage
As the field of dance science continues to expand, as research continues to develop, and as technologies continue to change, it is clear the mission to keep performers safe is far from taking a final bow.

Yet, to continue to drive this mission forward, it is vital that all levels of the performance community — from stage technicians to dance instructors — come together and share their solutions to improve the dance environment. These collaborations have led the industry to where it is today and will continue to advance the performance safety of tomorrow.

Bob Dagger is the president of American Harlequin Corporation (Harlequin). Established in the United States in 1987, Harlequin is a subsidiary of London-based British Harlequin, plc, which has supplied quality dance floors for more than three decades. Harlequin’s experience and reputation have been built on providing dance floors that offer low maintenance with a long trouble-free life. For stage, studio, television, and motion picture performers as well as exhibitors, Harlequin also has a complete line of resilient display floors to suit every occasion. For more information, visit Connect with Harlequin on Facebook and Twitter.


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