An article from STS magazine , November 2012 and dealing with the different (and sometimes awful) state of dance floors at UK festivals.

Steve Wozniak has seen a lot of floors!

I wonder how many other dancers have this year noticed the importance of a good dance floor. I ask this having attended Eastbourne, Chippenham, Sidmouth and Towersey festivals. At Sidmouth I did my customary 60 or 70 hours of dancing and my knees paid the price.

Eastbourne is the first in the season of notable dance festivals but I had no comments one way or the other about the floors. They were adequate and the music excellent except in smaller venues where the acoustics were so awful that nothing could be done to improve them.

Chippenham usually affords splendid opportunities to dance and with a higher calibre of younger partners than can often be found elsewhere (except of course at IVFDF!). The floors are usually very good especially in the Olympiad sports hall and there are few negative comments about the sound. But this year - oh dear me!

At the start of the weekend the sports hall floor was like dancing on treacle. I suspect it had been re-varnished and was either not quite dry or simply needed a good polish. Whatever the reason, it was awful. But it got better during the weekend. Or maybe we just got used it. There were numerous comments but Mike Courthold told me 'we have to work with what we are given'. Maybe, but testing the floor in such a major venue a week before the event and complaining if it is not to the usual standard might always be worth doing. You can but ask! As usual, I came away from Chippenham wishing it could have lasted another few days.

Next came Sidmouth and after last years well publicised fiasco in the Blackmore Gardens marquee, dancers might have expected much better, especially as the marquee was being used for a wider range of dance workshops. Unfortunately what we got was much the same as before and arguably worse in terms of the lack of any slip. It was seriously hard work all week. Areas were covered in old staples and with several holes patched with thin plywood and hazard tape. Here was a dance venue where you could never forget about the floor. You had always to be on your guard. The floors in the Church halls were so much better, even if they were hard and with no spring.

One senior steward at the Blackmore Gardens told me he was 'appalled' having seen the floor for the first time and removed lots of the old staples. I even stopped one dance to have a steward find a hammer to bang down a sharp screw that was protruding upwards through the floor. This could have seriously ripped a thin dance shoe or caused someone to injure themselves. Later I asked for all the old sticky tape to be removed. This had been left over from previous events (pre Sidmouth) and had curled up in places. As you danced your feet could suddenly bit a patch of glue or a ridge of tape. This job was undertaken, but why did I have to ask, days into the festival, for the floor to be cleared of all this material?

In a letter in issue 77, V K Smith advises me to be more polite in my comments. I've tried that and it doesn't generally work. For example, I asked twice and very politely at Sidmouth's Blackmore Gardens marquee this year for side flaps to be opened before dancers were broiled when it wasn't even a hot day. There was no response because (as is so usual there) the marquee had an inadequate number of stewards and a young girl had been left in charge, all by herself, at the entrance. So on the third time of asking I snapped her head off. That worked. She asked the only other steward on duty to open the flaps. He was relocated for a few minutes from his (pointless) job of guarding a wide open fire exit.

I did tell her later it was nothing personal and not aimed at her, and that we had the same issues year after year. 'Oh yes' she said, 'I know, we often don't have enough stewards'. Are there learning processes that are not understood here? It might not matter too much that a floor has no slip if it is being used for a barn dance for one evening. But when it is going to be used for a week by the same (sometimes elderly) dancers and for social dance where there is a lot of spinning, it is far more important. And it is an 'Elf and Safety' issue to ensure as far as possible that energetic dancers do not suffer heat-stroke.

Next stop was Towersey, a festival that has gained an enviable reputation for a good ceilidh dance floor. This year did not disappoint. It was smooth, there were no imperfections or edges and one could dance all weekend without giving the floor a second thought. And you rarely have to ask for the side flaps of the marquee to be opened or closed. The people in charge know what suits the dancers and just get on with it. This is how it should be and if Towersey can provide a superb floor on a farm field why can't Sidmouth do it in a town centre park?

Money, I guess, and the fact that Towersey (despite its size) is very much a friendly village affair with so much infrastructure being effectively given to the festival whereas at Sidmouth it all has to be paid for, despite all the hype about FolkWeek now 'belonging to the town'. It would be interesting to learn how much money the various Sidmouth landowners make from the festival and how little they give back.

next page

back to top of section

home page