With the recent build-out and expansion of my studio, Grooves Unlimited, I have received a lot of flooring questions. Over the years, I’ve put in some heavy research in hopes of finding the best flooring options for my dance studio, home studio and solo tours and this blog post is a detailed description of the portable and permanent tap floors I own and have built. I share this information with you in hopes of it helping you to find the best flooring option for you and your journey in the dance.

While our body is our instrument, so is our floor. The floor we as tap dancers stand on is a large contributor to our health and quality of sound, so it’s our responsibility to make sure we’re working with the appropriate instrument for our art form. First thing’s first, it’s not appropriate to have percussive dancers dance on marley. It exhausts the body and dampens our sound, which often leads to dancing heavier and harder in hopes of being heard, and there’s huge potential for injury.

So why do so many studios have marley? Well, simply put, it’s cheaper to install, cheaper to maintain, cheaper to clean, and it’s great for non-percussive dance styles, including Contemporary, Ballet, Pointe, Jazz, and Hip-Hop. And I know what you’re thinking… but what about the tap marley, specifically made for tap dance? This tap dance specific marley is a thicker marley that doesn’t get scuffed or torn up as easily, made specifically for the studio owner who wants to host tap dance classes on a marley floor. It’s important to realize, this product wasn’t made for the tap dancer, it was made for the studio owner who isn’t prepared to invest in the installation and maintenance of a wood floor.

Below is a list of In-Studio, At-Home, and Portable Floors I’ve used and the upsides and downsides of each one. Before building any floor, please consult a contractor with the appropriate expertise. This blog post isn’t a how-to guide to DIY tap floors, but rather a stepping stone to your initial research in finding the best product for you and your dance situation.

In-Studio

Tongue and Groove Pre-Finished Hard Maple with Stagestep Squares

This floor is laid on top of cement, bottom to top layers include: vapor barrier, 2’’x 2’’ x ¾‘’foam squares, plywood layer, second plywood layer, felt paper, tongue and groove maple.

Positives:
– This is the ultimate floor! (in my opinion).
– The bounce to it feels good on the body.
– The sound is beautiful.
– The grain of the wood feels nice.
– This flooring system can be laid over any type of floor, including cement.
– A great investment. This floor will last many years with multiple sandings.

Challenges:
– Extremely expensive. To cut costs, I personally ordered and carried in over 5,000 lbs of wood with my bare hands. I also chose to purchase pre-finished wood. While the pre-finished product is more expensive, you save on labor costs because the installer doesn’t have to sand and refinish the surface, and the pre-finished wood lasts longer because there are more urethane coats applied with better precision by a machine than if a person had done it. My students also pitched in and helped me with installing about 1,000 foam squares onto the subfloor instead of having the hired installer’s team do it. With all of these cost-saving techniques, it was still extremely expensive.
– Permanence. This isn’t a floor I can pick up and take with me to a new location.
– Maintenance. I’ll need to sand and refinish this floor every couple years.

Check out this floor in action:

DuraDance System by Lumber Liquidators

This floor is laid on top of cement, bottom to top layers include: vapor barrier, shock absorbing roll out foam, horizontally pressed click bamboo.

Positives:
– More affordable than the tongue and groove listed above. This is a sprung, wood floor, at maybe 60% of the cost of a hardwood floor.
– It does not need to be re-finished.
– Has a great, healthy bounce.
– Bamboo is extremely durable and can really take a beating. This floor barely even dented after four years of regular use by percussive dancers.
– This flooring system can be laid over any type of floor, including cement.

Challenges:
– Very temperamental. The floor would contract and expand according to temperature and humidity level of the seasons. While this is a character of wood in general, this was on a larger scale. I would walk in on Thursday, and the floor would have no gaps, I’d come back Saturday and there would be 1’’ gaps between multiple boards. The thermostat had to be on around the clock specifically for the floor to prevent major gapping.
– Lumber Liquidators is a challenge to work with. The reason you cut costs by working with them is that you essentially take on the role of Contractor. You must be prepared to do heavy research and take lead in overseeing the delivery and installation of materials (which for me included tipping the FedX driver to help me carry 30+ boxes of wood up a flight of stairs).
– After 4 years, it started to splinter in a few places. Not a big deal to a tap dancer, but not ideal if you’re sharing the floor with other styles of dance who work barefoot or do floor work.
– Extremely slippery upon installation. The first few months of this floor was like being on an ice rink, but the speed of it became more comfortable after we wore it in.
– Online Horror Stories: Other people who chose to purchase this product had serious problems with this floor that I personally did not experience. Most notable were buckling and vapor issues.

Something important to consider: This product was advertised to me as a non-permanent option that I could install, and pick up to take with me to a new location in the future. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case because upon installation, they glued the floor and if they had pulled it up, the click mechanism that holds to individual panels together would have broken. However, according to another installer, it was better in the long run that the floor had been glued because it prevented the buckling that other purchasers had experienced.

Check out this floor in action:

At Home

O’Mara

I have a 6’ x 6’ O’Mara floor made of Michigan Hard Maple on shock absorbing foam squares, held together by a cable system. This floor is laid on top of an oak wood floor.

Positives:
– The bounce feels good on the body.
– It provides ample sound, so you don’t have to dance heavily.
– The speed of the floor is nice.
– This flooring system can be laid over any type of floor, including cement.
– Non-permanent installation, the floor can be picked up and re-laid in a new location.
– A great investment. This floor will last many years.

Challenges:
– Expensive. This was a pricey purchase, but very much worth the high quality of the product.
– The floor is very heavy. While it’s technically portable in the sense that it can be moved from location to location, it’s not easy to move.
– Installation isn’t quick with the cable system, but it is easy.
– While I listed the ample sound that this floor provides as a positive, I also have to list it as a challenge. This floor is very loud and I have to wear in-ear hearing protection while practicing on it.

Check out this floor in action:

Portable

Tongue and Groove Oak Floor

A student of mine built me this floor a few years back and I used it both as a portable floor for local NYC gigs and as an at-home practice floor in my NYC apartment.
Positives:
– While there isn’t a bounce to the floor, it is sitting on top of a wooden frame, so it’s healthy to dance on.
– Great sound quality.
– The grain feels good.
– This truly is a portable floor. It detaches and folds in half, so it’s easier to travel with.
– Can be laid on top of any floor, from carpet to marble and it won’t slip because it has rubber gripping on the bottom.
Challenges:
– Requires a cart to travel with it comfortably.
– Too heavy/bulky to bring on an airplane or bring up and down stairs in the subway, better for local gigs that you can travel to by car.

Check out this floor in action:

Fasfoot Floor

This is my go-to floor for traveling gigs/recording sessions and the floor I recommend to dancers who want something to practice at home but don’t feel like building something from scratch.

Positives:
– Slight bounce to the floor, and it’s sitting on top of an aluminum frame, so it’s healthy to dance on.
– Good sound quality.
– The seams sit flush so I never catch a lip in the folds of the floor.
– This is the most portable floor of all. The floor itself folds up to a third of its size, and the frame it sits on breaks down. All pieces lay comfortably together in a bag and I never have a problem with it at the airport (I have a case for the floor and check it as a fragile instrument).
– Can be laid on top of any floor, from carpet to marble

Challenges:
– For the best use of this product, I recommend the aluminum frame.

Check out this floor in action:

2×4 Frame with Plywood

The most affordable option of all. A frame built by 2x4s with plywood sitting on top of it. I have a 2’x2’ floor that sits in my car just in case I ever need one.

Positives:
– Cheap.
– DIY project.
– Easy to carry without a cart or a bag.
– It’s sitting on top of a frame, so it’s healthy to dance on.
– Good sound quality.
– Can be laid on top of any type of floor. Just make sure you put rubber underneath so you don’t slide.

Challenges:
– These floors wear down pretty quickly.
– It doesn’t fold up, so to keep it portable, you have to build it small.

 

There you have it! I wish you all the best in your journey in the dance and hope you are able to find the floor that best suits your portable or permanent practice and/or performance needs. Do you have any flooring experiences or suggestions you’d like to share? Please comment below!

All the best,

Hillary-Marie