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Sports hall and dance studio floors: What’s the difference?

Are dance floors and sport floors the same? It may depend on who you ask,
so Richard Aylen tries to provide some clarity.

WHEN it comes to the differences between dance floors and sports floors, there does at least appear to be consensus on the need for a ‘sprung’ floor of some kind but when you look for advice on the different types of finish and what defines a ‘sprung’ floor things can become a little less clear.

I’ve discussed this topic on many occasions with designers and dance studio clients, and this month’s column is inspired by the fact the client will often have been told to buy a dancefloor and specifically NOT one that’s designed for sports, the implication being they’re not the same. I want to talk about some of the more useful ideas that have emerged from these conversations, accompanied by a little research along the way.

In my opinion many building owners, especially in sports centres, dance studios and the education sector will benefit from knowing that more than likely a modern, good quality sprung floor will be suitable for multi-purpose sports and most dance disciplines.

Some of the more unusual sales arguments I’ve heard from dance floor suppliers include the idea that sports floors are hard and unyielding, and so aren’t suitable for dance. It’s also been suggested that dancers and athletes don’t interact with the floor in the same way and therefore the floor specification needs to be different for each activity.

Sprung wooden floors are portrayed by one particular dance floor supplier as being unsuitable for professional dance but suitable for a multi-use hall used by low-skilled dancers. In response I suggest that long ago, before we fully understood the floor’s potential for injury, sports and dance floors were predominantly solid and unyielding. It’s likely the dance and sports communities both discovered the need for shock-absorbing, safer ‘sprung’ floors at about the same time.

However, the sports community were many years ahead of dance in developing specific technical standards, and there are still no universal dance-specific standards to this day. There’ll be some differences between the body movements of athletes and dancers and their ways of landing on the floor. So too will there be differences between the movements and landing characteristics of different athletes: badminton players, compared with basketball or futsal for example, and not all sports will require a rating for ball bounce.

There’ll likewise be differences between dance disciplines. Ballet dancers move differently from ballroom dancers, and so on. But wholesale rejection of sports floors for dance, or vice versa, makes no sense and is probably just a rather tenuous sales argument aimed at keeping competitors out of the market.

The current sports floor technical standards are intended as a general basis for selecting a safe and comfortable floor and currently appear to be the most reliable basis we have for choosing sports and dance floor systems. Both sports and dance communities in fact refer directly to EN 14904:2006 or its predecessor DIN 18032.

Some sport governing bodies have taken the basic standard and modified individual elements to better suit their own needs – something that can be done just as easily for sports as for dance. In response to the suggestion that wooden floors are only for ‘amateur’ dancers I can point to the large number of professional dance studios that have wooden floors.

Next time you watch the competitors in Strictly Come Dancing doing their midweek practice on TV, cast an eye at their floor. Consider also that their ‘dream venue’, the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool happens to have a beautiful hardwood floor, albeit with a rather quirky and ancient system of metal springs beneath it. My own company has recently supplied a sprung solid hardwood dance studio floor to one of the Strictly judges.

In 2006 the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the dance community discussed the creation of their own technical standards. They compared dancer’s needs with the existing sports floor standards being used in Europe and the US.

They found the German sports floor standards DIN 18032 happened to be very suitable for multi-discipline dance. In 2006 the DIN standard was superseded by EN 14904, which is very similar, and applicable to dance in much the same way.

This is why you’ll see references to EN 14904 and DIN 18032 in technical information from both sports and dance floor manufacturers. It appears to show the fundamental performance characteristics of sports and dance floors are broadly the same. Despite this connection I don’t think the dance community as a whole has ever made a formal declaration that they have adopted either of these standards.

This common ground includes the idea dancers and athletes prefer a floor that’s comfortable, safe and won’t cause them fatigue. This translates into a floor that’s shock absorbing, has the right level of slip resistance (not too little, not too much) and doesn’t deflect too much when the person lands on it. Academic research into dance related injuries1 showed some dancers’ injuries are related to how uniform the shock absorption of the floor is across its area.

Large variations can mean more injuries. A floor that complies with EN 14904 will also need to have a uniform response to gain certification and minimise injuries, so this too is a common link between sports and dance floors.

The good news is that if you have a ‘sprung’ sports or dance floor that complies with EN 14904, especially if you have an area elastic floor (eg hardwood rather than soft cushion vinyl surface) your activity spaces may be more versatile than you thought.

Do I need a sprung or a semi-sprung floor?
There are no technical industry-wide definitions of ‘sprung’ and ‘semi-sprung’, but some floor manufacturers, notably in the dance industry interpret these terms in an arbitrary way to help customers differentiate between their systems.

I’m sure we can all agree a ‘non-sprung’ floor will be a hard floor with no shock absorption, and this will be unsuitable for any form of activity where the performer repeatedly jumps and lands on the floor. Dancing or playing sport on a hard, unyielding surface is known to cause tendon injuries, shin splints and joint problems.

In the absence of any dance-specific standards I suggest a sprung OR a semi-sprung floor is best defined as one that complies with the shock absorption/force reduction and surface deflection tests under EN 14904, the European standard for multi-purpose sports floors.

If you delve further into sports floor technical standards, you will find reference to other types of sprung floor in addition to Area Elastic systems mentioned earlier. Point Elastic, Combi Elastic and Mixed Elastic floors are also described in EN 14904. These floor types have a soft, spongy surface as you would find with cushion vinyl or polyurethane.

Working every day with activity floor systems, I can see a trend away from these types of systems because the soft surface can act as a brake on the user’s foot. A non-cushioned surface, with the correct level of slip resistance will allow the foot to slide in a controlled way and will reduce the likelihood of tendon strains and other similar injuries.

This is of concern to both athletes and dancers. In the sports arena wheelchair athletes have expressed dissatisfaction with point elastic/cushioned floors because the softness of the surface has a high rolling resistance which can lead to early fatigue and longer term, to injuries. It’s also worth mentioning that in the UK the Department for Education’s design rules for school’s activity spaces allow only Area Elastic floor systems.

Is there a case for individual sports and dance disciplines to devise their own dedicated technical standards? Well, this has already happened to some extent in the sports world. FIBA, the international basketball federation has taken EN 14904 and tailored parts of it to suit dedicated basketball floors and they have different standards for different levels of play. Other sports have followed, to a lesser degree, such as netball and indoor cricket.

I can see no technical reason why the different dance disciplines could not do the same, but this has not happened yet. Even though the dance community appears to agree that EN 14904 is a good basis for a basic dance floor standard they don’t appear to have made any formal united declaration of this as far as I’m aware. Doing so could in fact help reduce injuries among professional dancers. You would have to ask if there’s perhaps still a dominant attitude that dancers’ injuries are an inevitable occupational hazard.

Creating or adopting a technical standard is one thing but you have to enforce it on theatre and venue owners who may be unwilling or unable to upgrade their facilities. As no dancefloor standard exists the dancer’s needs remain no more than a ‘wish list’ and providers of dance floors may simply not feel the pressure to offer something safer.

Someone who sustains an injury on a sports floor that doesn’t comply with EN 14904 will probably have a better chance of claiming compensation than a dancer who is injured on the same floor because there’ll be an argument the standard was for sports, even though the dance community has embraced it.

Dance floor system manufacturers who tell customers to avoid using sprung sports floor for dance may not be doing their customers any favours.
Richard Aylen is technical manager
at Junckers

Source: 1 Hopper L S et al. Dance floor mechanical properties and dancer injuries in a touring professional ballet company. J Sci Med Sport (2013),

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