Less Than Ideal: Dancing on Non-Traditional Flooring
By Caitlin M. Heflin from Doctors for Dancers
Doctors for Dancers is committed to the dance community and the welfare and health of all dancers. With that in mind, how can we assist dancers in mitigating the risks of dancing outside of their normal safe studio spaces during the Covid-19 Pandemic? We chatted with Kaycee Jones, Co-Founder and COO of Apolla Shocks, the only dance footwear to receive the American Podiatric Medical Association Seal of Acceptance, to see what can be done.
The floor beneath your feet in a dance studio is so much more than a flat surface for you to stand on. Proper flooring surfaces can make a huge difference in a dancer’s health and overall goal of injury prevention. However, since March of 2020, many dancers have been forced to turn their homes into dance studios, and many studios have been forced to hold their in-person classes outdoors to reduce the spread of Covid-19. This results in flooring that ranges from less than ideal to downright dangerous. So what can be done to mitigate the risks posed to the health of our dancing joints as we do our best to slow the expansion of Covid-19?
What exactly is in a “good” dance floor that makes it so special? Three crucial elements need to be present: shock absorption, lateral foot support, and good surface material. When a dancer lands from a jump, the impact energy created is three times the dancer’s body weight. Ideally, a floor needs to be able to absorb at least 53% of that impact energy; if it cannot, the energy is directly returned into the dancer’s body and can cause both short-term and long-term injuries. A typical dance studio will have a multilayered, floating sprung floor, lifting the dancer away from the building’s hard base floor. Additionally, the floor must be smooth and stable, not too spongy, to create the necessary lateral foot support to keep ankles safe and promote good balance. Finally, the surface of the floor should not be either too slippery or too sticky.
With all that in mind, think for a moment about the floors we have been dancing on while quarantining and social distancing. Perhaps an asphalt parking lot, or wood laid down over concrete in your bedroom. While we are all doing the best that we can under the circumstances, it is easy to see why these at-home and outdoor situations are problematic for our dancing bodies. Concrete (and other similar hard surfaces) is non-energy absorbent and will take on 0% of the impact, leaving your body to pick up the slack. The rug in your living room or the squishy yoga mat you’ve thrown down to help with shock absorption will certainly present a more precarious situation for your balance, and the tiles on your kitchen floor or the grass in your backyard will either be too slippery or too sticky to execute your pirouettes safely. As a result, many of us, in our youth and excitement to dance will expose ourselves to a higher risk of injury. Jones states it best, “Young dancers think that they’re Teflon. They don’t understand the damage that they’re doing to their bodies right now”
While properly warming up, good alignment and proper technique can help to offset some of these hazards, you are still exposing yourself to an array of potential injuries, both chronic and acute. When dancing on a hard surface, it is easy to feel more fatigued, develop shin splints, back injuries, knee injuries, strains, and even breaks. A surface without adequate lateral foot support can expose you to a host of ankle and foot woes, while a too slippery or too sticky surface puts you at higher risk for injuries relating to trips, twists, and falls. Furthermore, dance is an incredibly repetitious activity that can already heighten the risk for an overuse injury. As Jones notes, “With dance it is the same repetitive movements over and over and over, and inflammation builds up that can cause overuse injuries. Typically, dancers don’t take the time needed to reduce inflammation before they come back to class every single day.” Performing a highly repetitive action on a treacherous surface can inflict lasting physical damage.
To diminish the risks, dancers might turn to sneakers or dance shoes that have little to no cushion. But these solutions are no panacea, and may not be appropriate for every setting that you find yourself in. Here’s where the Apolla Shocks can be of great use; helping the dancer to stay safe while building strength. Apolla offers six different “Shocks'' that can be used in any situation, either as a stand-alone or with dance shoes. They have targeted compression that aids with blood flow, stability through the arch and ankle, and even helps dancers to maintain better alignment by providing proprioception and greater kinesthetic awareness. They also reduce the force on the body by providing energy absorption and will help to reduce inflammation caused by dancing on those less than desirable surfaces. The Shocks also come with or without traction, meaning that for those of us sliding around on our tile floors, traction will help us stay put, while those struggling on carpet won’t have to worry about any additional friction if they select the non-traction Shocks. In Jones’ words, “They (Shocks) help lessen the pain and reduce fatigue for anyone wearing them with or without shoes. You will feel a difference; you’ll feel like you can go longer and stronger than you would in a regular sock and shoe.”
So, though our pets may have to keep dodging us as we use a chair for a barre for a while yet, it never hurts to be aware of the risks you are exposing yourself to. Dancing on floors that are not intended for dance is a hazardous endeavor. If you find yourself injured, seek help from one of the many Dance Specialists you can find listed on Doctors for Dancers. In the meantime, pay close attention to your alignment, choose the best flooring option at your disposal, and utilize all the tools in your arsenal. Those just might include a pair of Apolla Shocks.