Turning Surfaces

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Sometimes it’s not that you’re having a bad turning day, it’s the just the darn floor! Sometimes you will get lucky with a great turning surface, but there are many times that the dance floor is not ideal for turning. So let’s talk about all the different kinds of floor and how to approach your turns on each surface. To start off, I’ll say this: a solid, strong, and consistent turning technique can al-ways overcome a less-than-ideal floor. Knowing the adjustments to make for the floor is a big part of turning success. The best floor has just enough stickiness in it that you
don’t need to use rosin, and still smooth enough to allow you to glide around effortlessly through your turns. During my career, I’ve experienced it all. If you have any stories (good, bad, amazing, or horrendous), please feel free to share in the comment section.
Here are some of my thoughts on the different kind of floors out there:


Even though this is one “type” of floor, marley can vary drastically from studio to studio, and stage to stage. I have found that studios that only do ballet tend to be pretty good for ballet turns because you can use rosin if you want, and the floors are main-tained for the specific needs of ballet technique. In studios that have ballet, jazz, mod-ern, and tap classes, the floor comes into contact with many different types of shoes (or bare feet) that need varying amounts of traction. Many times these types of studios will not allow the use of rosin, which can be a challenge for ballet dancers. Sometimes floor work in modern classes can cause slick spots because dancers’ sweat and body lotion ends up on the floor. The reverse can occur as well, when rosin is overused in certain spots, making sticky “traps” for your feet. Slick floors can cause a lot of trouble for turns, because you standing leg can slipout from underneath you. It is harder to control your traction through the preparation, turn, and landing. On slippery marley floor, dampening your shoes with water can help, but you must carefully reapply often, being sure not have just the right amount of damp-ness. Of course, after a while you just end up with a soggy, stinky shoe! Leather shoes can offer more traction for slick floors, so I always carry both canvas and leather shoes.

That being said, if you wear pointe shoes in this kind of studio, there is not much that can be done! All I can say is, be careful in your preparation and be aware of the edges of your shoes. Some dancers have a thin rubber sole applied to their pointe shoes if they are consistently dancing on very slippery floor, but this changes the feel of the pointe shoes dramatically. Carefully “feel the floor” with your feet and legs so that you are aware at all times of how you are placing and using your feet on the floor.

Sticky floors are better for pointe shoes but can be dangerous for knees, ankles and hips in flat shoes. If your foot is stuck in one place and the rest of the leg keeps moving, you can tear a muscle or ligament. For me, after dancing on a sticky floor my knees are always sore in a strange way. So be careful! On sticky marley, you may not be able to do as many turns. Use your plie well so that you can take off smoothly for your turn without sticking and twisting in your legs. Wear clean shoes, canvas flats or pointe shoes that don’t have rosin residue caked on them from previous uses. On sticky floors your awareness of “feeling the floor” can mean the difference between stubbingyour toe and gliding smoothly along the surface.

Wood Floors

I don’t have a lot of experience dancing on wood floors. I do know that leather shoes are best because they offer both traction and smoothness for turns. Some wood floors are sanded down and some have a waxy film on them. On smooth, unfinished wood floors, water on the shoes can help a lot because both the shoes and the floor can absorb the moisture. Highly polished wood floors are definitely not good for ballet!

These floors are most often used for tap, so they can have small divots from repeated beatings from tap shoes. If you must dance on a polished wood floor, dance very care- fully in leather shoes or rubberized pointe shoes.

Floor Tape

With marley dance floors, tape is an inevitable part of the surface. Nowadays there are more studios with “fused” marley floors, but stages are almost never like that.

Every single stage will I have ever danced on has some kind of tape on it because the marley is laid down specifically for ballet performances. Hopefully, your stage crew will lay the marley flat and even with straight, smooth tape lines. If not, watch out! Floor tape has a different texture from the rest of the floor and can mess up a turn at the wrong time. Sometimes the tape can even start to peel off and stick to your shoes. So as you are setting your choreography on stage, make sure to check out where the tape is and how best to avoid the tape lines at key moments in your choreography.


Ripples in the floor don’t often happen in the studio, but can be tricky on stage. Ripples happen when the floor is not laid flat, or the marley is old and stiff. In traveling turns, a ripple can trip you up as your toes reach for the floor in front of you. If you can get the stage crew to stomp out the ripples, insist that they do! Other things on the stage surface can affect the feel of the floor, such as trap doors and seams on the wood floor beneath the marley. You can always ask to have a big trap door marked with tape so that you know exactly where it is as you are approaching the area. That being said, you must always know your stage surface well, looking for ways to avoid trouble spots in the floor as you approach your turns.

Raked stages are on a tilt downstage. This is an old style of stage that allows fora better view of upstage action, but can very difficult to dance on if you’re not used to it. Not too many of these kind of stages are left in America, but they are still around in Europe. I’ve been fortunate to have danced at the Garnier De Opera House in Paris while dancing with San Francisco Ballet. I could never do more than a double pirouette on it, and my turns alway felt weird. Dancing Helgi Tomasson’s Four Seasons, all the men had to do a la seconde turns facing the four corners of the stage. My turns were facing the upstage right corner, so that plus the rake made for a turning disaster! The next very next show, I changed to face the audience and my turns were much better.

Often, dancers have to shift their center of gravity back ever so slightly to adjust for the downward slope of the stage. Making small adjustments like that can help to reorient your body to the gravitational pull of the raked stage.

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