What is a dance floor? It is a floor surface that is easy and comfortable to dance on. The characteristics of a good dance floor will depend on the type of dance to be performed on it.
Ballet dancers need very non-slip surfaces, while modern dancers in bare feet need smooth giving surfaces so the floor does not cause injury to the bottom of their feet.
Tappers need some give, yet also need the assurance under foot of a non-slip surface.
Ballroom and theatre dance require a “fast” (less non-slip) surface.
A safety concern dancers have is the ability of the floor to absorb and dissipate energy, and/or safely return energy (resilient energy). A floor without some give and some spring is hard on the knees and ankles.
One thing common to all the different dance styles is that floor needs to have some give and some spring. This is normally satisfied by a sprung floor.
According to wikipedia,
"A sprung floor is a floor that absorbs shocks giving it a softer feel." It is the best for dance.
"Modern sprung floors are supported by foam backing or rubber feet, while the traditional floors are cushioned mechanically."
A sprung floor is also sometimes referred to as a floating floor.
The top layer of a sprung floor is a performance surface. The performance surface is normally of vinyl (marley floors) or hardwood, engineered wood or laminate.
A sprung floor excluding the surface is often referred to as the sub-floor, though this may also refer to the concrete or other floor under a sprung floor.
While a sprung floor is ideal, a floor built over wood frame, rather than directly on concrete, will also provide some amount of give and spring.
As indicated above, a dance floor can be divided into the performance surface, that part the dancers are touching with their feet, and everything underneath the performance surface, the subfloor. The subfloor can be further divided into base, cushioning, and surfacing. In a commercial setting, and in single story structures, the base will typically be poured concrete. On the upper levels of wood frame buildings, the base will typically be plywood over wooden joists.
Cushioning can be mechanical, or resilient materials. Resilient materials are rubbers or high-density foams, and can be in continuous sheets (covers the whole floor surface) or various schemes where the resilient material does not cover the whole floor space, such as rubber feet, foam blocks, or other shapes. Mechanical cushioned will typically consist of criss-crossing wooden slats (usually 1x2in cross section).
Choice of performance surface will depend on the primary dance to be performed on the floor. As indicated above, ballet, modern, jazz, tap, and other similar forms require a smooth, non-slip surface, which is normally best accomplished with a marley floor (vinyl). Ballroom requires the ability to slide the feet smoothly across the floor, so it requires a faster surface.
Probably the best surface for ballroom dancing is a smooth hardwood floor (joints between panels can't be felt by the feet), unfinished, and polished smooth. However, this is also a surface extremely vulnerable to staining. We have seen recommendations to seal the wood with tung or linseed oil, having the least impact to the smoothness of the floor for dance. Today it is quite common to buy prefinished hardwoods. If it is to be used for a ballroom dance floor, it is advisable to assemble a sample, and test it out with dance shoes on.
While hardwood floors are considered the standard for ballroom dance, they may not be appropriate for all environments. Some examples include venues that are relatively open to the elements, or moist basements. In these cases, one might consider portable ballroom floors (assemble as needed) or laminate flooring.As in the case of prefinished hardwood flooring, it is advisable to test out laminate samples with dance shoes to make sure they are suitable for dance.
Example of Ballroom Dance Floor Installation
These dance floor provider comparison notes were assembled in the course of planning and installing a ballroom dance floor as part of finishing a basement area as a dance studio. All tests indicated the space had little issue with moisture, however the decision was to play it safe and high quality laminate flooring was used.
The finished dance floor consists of the following layers, going from top down:
Performance surface: High-end laminate flooring: Grand Illusions by Armstrong, L3022 Cherry Natural (12mm)
Subfloor - panels: Commercially available 2x2ft random wafer panels. StageStep IV-A subfloor. These snap together with tongue-and-groove joints.
Subfloor - foam: 1/2in thick high density foam sheeting. This is part of StageStep IV-A subfloor system, but come separately and is place directly under the 2x2ft wafer board panels.
12mil plastic sheeting vapor barrier (to protect floor from moisture)