What “Feeling the Floor” Really Means for Ballet Dancers
“Make sure you’re feeling the floor!” If you had a dollar for every time you’ve heard a teacher say that, you’d be able to buy a new pair of pointe shoes every single day for life. But what does it actually mean to “feel the floor” in a ballet context? Pointe asked the experts how you can get up close and personal with the floor, whether that’s onstage, at your ballet school, or in your at-home studio.
Much like in any interpersonal relationship, how your dancing interacts with the floor will depend on the floor’s own qualities. As Chrissy Ott at Harlequin Floors says, “Harlequin offers several options of sprung floor systems that all differ in construction, each creating a different feel for dancers.” Each vinyl marley surface you’ll dance on during your career can be expected to differ in cushioning, durability and “grip” (traction). Classical ballet dancers, especially those on pointe, tend to prefer soft surfaces with some, but not too much, traction, like Harlequin Studio™.
All of which is to say: If you want to feel the floor, even in a studio space that’s familiar to you, you’ll have to pay close attention. “If it’s warmer in the studio, the floor gets stickier,” says Jared Redick, interim dean of dance at University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “When it gets colder, it gets a little slicker.” Right from the start of your warm-up, pay attention to the floor’s level of grip and support. That way, you’ll know whether to put more or less force into your turns, and you’ll be able to assess how you can make movement look sharper or smoother.
As bunheads well know, feeling the floor gets way more difficult once you strap on those boots. Shaye Firer of American Repertory Ballet in New Brunswick, New Jersey, thinks that feeling the floor through pointe shoes is actually easier when in motion. “When I’m fully up on pointe, I can feel the floor pretty easily through the shoe’s box,” she says. “When standing flat or doing a tendu in pointe shoes, it’s much harder to feel the floor through the soles of my feet.” If you find yourself struggling to articulate through your shoes and sense the floor beneath you, try removing some or all padding within the pointe shoe (as Firer herself has done). Or follow Redick’s suggestion: Give yourself extra foot-articulation exercises to do before pointe class starts.
As you get deeper into your connection with the floor, you might even find yourself becoming more discerning about the surface you’re dancing on. As Ott says, “It’s a common misconception that a floor for sports will suit the needs of dancers.” But floors that aren’t specifically designed for dance tend to be harder and more slippery—and they don’t offer the support of purpose-built dance flooring like Harlequin’s.
Because dance shoes don’t offer as much support as an athletic-type shoe, dancers need a floor that actively cushions, protecting joints and ligaments. Harlequin vinyl floors are “point elastic” (meaning they deflect force at the point of impact), while the sprung floors are “area elastic” (to avoid a trampoline effect). If you’re curious about how different kinds of floors feel, dancers are welcome to test out Harlequin’s various flooring types at the company’s showroom in Moorestown, New Jersey. On the other hand, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by options, Harlequin’s floor selector tool can guide you in finding your perfect (flooring) match by having you answer a few simple questions.
Photo by Frank Wojciechowski
Ryoko Tanaka and Aldeir Monteiro of American Repertory Ballet
Style and Support
Why do teachers go on and on about feeling the floor? First, because it just looks better. As Redick says, “When I judge competitions like YAGP, I can absolutely see the difference between dancers who have a firm understanding of utilizing the floor and dancers who don’t. The lack of kinetic integration and cohesiveness actually gives you a little anxiety—it’s like a cat on ice.”
The second reason ballet dancers should home in on the floor is simple: safety. Firer says that articulating every inch of your foot on and off the floor helps prevent a host of issues, whether immediate (rolling or twisting an ankle) or chronic (knee problems, Achilles tendinitis). Not to mention, “You build more strength in your feet and ankles, which means you are less prone to injury in the first place.”
Of course, it’s forever easier (and more fun!) when your hardworking feet can get close with dance flooring that gives love right back to them. If you’ve developed trust issues from unpredictable floor experiences in the past, it might be time to consider Harlequin. After all, as Ott says, “We recognize that dancers need to feel comfortable and safe with the floor, so they can dance with confidence. It’s always interesting talking to dancers about their experiences with various floors throughout their career. They always know when they’re not dancing on a Harlequin floor!”