Harlequin Floors’ Mark Rasmussen is a familiar and friendly face at global performing arts events where he regularly lectures and advises architects, school administrators, local government, unions and teachers about creating a safe environment for dance and performing arts.
In his article below for SiDI, he answers some key questions and outlines the advice he gives to the dance world about the important role the floor has in contributing to safe practice.
Is it difficult to lecture and advise when you’re also representing a commercial organisation?
Not at all, Harlequin work closely with our friends such as you guys at Safe in Dance International, One Dance UK’s Healthier Dancer team and the wider international dancers’ health community to ensure that the advice we give is backed both by the latest research and, just as important, supported by health professionals who look after the needs of injured artists.
It’s also vital that our advice is neutral in tone as the people I’m presenting to are professionals who want information, not a sales pitch! It’s my job, even in a short presentation, to deliver some important “take home points” which enables people to ask the right questions when they find themselves in the position of specifying a space for dance, drama or musical theatre.
What sort of “take home points” do you give?
Initially, I point out the requirements for a space focusing on everything from ceiling height, barres, mirrors (including the arguments for and against), suitable sound systems and then, not surprisingly, floors. Various studies have shown that the wrong kind of floor is an injury risk and so, with current research highlighting that the majority of dance injuries are from overuse, a floor providing the right amount of force reduction is a vital contribution to the long-term health of the performer, student or teacher.
We put great emphasis on consistent force reduction rather the “trampoline effect”. Force reduction is key and we work from around 60% up to 70%. If you imagine how often a dancer will jump (or otherwise impact the floor) in their career, that level of force reduction will reduce the risk of impact injuries such as shin splints and stress fractures.
My second point is that floors for performing arts, particularly dance, and floors designed for sport, are not the same. Sadly, some architects, school managers and producers don’t know there are big differences between a sprung floor for performing arts and, say, a basketball court. This problem can be even harder to address when some floor manufacturers will confuse the market by taking products “suitable for sport”, and then, almost as an afterthought, adding “and dance”.
What isthe difference between sports floors and floors for dance?
In a nutshell, floors for sport tend to be harder or stiffer than floors for dance. They need to be because sports floors are designed to give adequate “ball bounce”, in fact “ball bounce” is one of the standard tests for a sports floor, a requirement that is irrelevant to dancers and performers.
According to Sport England surfaces designed for sports can be found with force reduction as little as 25% or less and still be considered suitable for single sports applications (e.g. Tennis and Bowls) although such hard floors do fall outside the standard which starts at >25%.
Even when a floor designed for sports is properly sprung, DIN standards start at around 46%, which is still too hard compared to the softer 60-70% I mentioned earlier.
In sport, the impact of harder or stiffer floors is offset because most users of sports floors are supported by cushioned footwear whilst performers regularly rehearse and perform in bare feet, socks, ballet or character shoes which don’t offer any protection at all.
What other points do you make when you present?
A floor needs to be consistent with a force reduction variation of no more than +/- 5%. Dr Luke Hopper and his colleagues have researched force reduction variation – he tested a stage floor where a company was experiencing greater than usual injuries and found that, depending on where you landed on the stage, the force reduction could vary between slightly above 20% to around 60%. “This creates a problem biomechanically for the dancer” he explains, because the performer is pre-stressing their body to what they expect the surface to be”. I like to use the analogy of what happens when you land and you were expecting feathers and hitting concrete instead, which will send the shock of impact through your lower body.
Finally, I help to explain what the different types of sprung floors and vinyl performance surfaces are, and why you would specify one over another. For example, some vinyl surfaces have a cushioned foam backing which makes the floor more forgiving to the elbows and knees of contemporary or street dancers with their rigorous floor work, but that same cushioning will dampen the sound if used for percussive dance such as tap, flamenco and Irish dance.
Classical dancers tend to divide between the two surfaces with some preferring a cushioned surface and some preferring a floor without so we encourage companies to either test a sample first or visit some of our previous installations.
Hopper, L.S., Allen, N., Wyon, M., Alderson, J.A., Elliot, B.C. & Ackland, T.R. (2014). Dance floor mechanical properties and dancer injuries in a touring professional ballet company. J Sci Med Sp, Jan, 17 (1), 29-33.