Courtesy Stagestep

Don't Let Your Floor Become a Slippery Slope!

Why your dance floor is slippery and how to fix it.

The biggest problem dancers have with floors is that they are too slippery. Slippery is unstable and dangerous, a formula for disaster. But did your floor start out slippery or did it get that way over time? Just one of many questions that need to be answered before we can fix the problem

There have been many suggested solutions to slippery floors. Myths, inexperience and lack of expertise can result in failure or in making the problem worse. Be careful of what you hear and read. Well meaning people can lead you astray. With 47 years of experience in the theatrical flooring marketplace, we have dealt with just about every problem you could have.

The first thing is to figure out why the floor is slippery, second, stop doing things that make it worse and third, create a long term maintenance program.

Identifying the problem
You bought the wrong floor. If you purchased laminent, engineered wood or bamboo you are likely going to have slip issues. This is due, in part, to a factory finish applied to the floor that is way to fast (slipping) for most dance styles. Many people buy these products because they look nice and are inexpensive. What you really bought was trouble. The problem with factory finishes is they are next to impossible to remove. Most stripping products will not do the trick and sanding is not an option because it will destroy the vinyl surface. You can only sand or screen real wood (Bamboo is a plant). Slip NoMor will often work if it is compatible with the factory finish. The only way to find out is to try it. You can use a version of Floor Shield that will bond with most floors. Otherwise, the only answer is to roll out a marley type floor on top of the inherently slippery surface.

Try out all flooring surfaces before you buy. Make an informed choice but if it doesn't feel to your liking, don't get it. It will not improve with time.

A Stagestep's best seller, Super Timestep flooring, for Joffrey Ballet School in Long Island City, NY. Photography courtesy of Joffrey Ballet School, choreography by Serenade by George Balanchine and staged by Stacy Caddell. Courtesy Stagestep

You are the Problem
Sometimes the floor isn't the problem, you are. Perspiration and body lotions contain oil and just washing your floor with water makes matters worse. Oil is slippery. Water and oil do not mix so all you are doing is spreading the problem all over your floor. Solution: Use a detergent/degreaser with water to dissolve and clean up the oil residue (available from janitorial supply outlets or a cleaner from the dance floor company). Cleaning your floors with supermarket detergents is not recommended. Many have additives that leave your floor shinny and slippery.

Using Rosin is another no-no especially on vinyl floors. It is pine tar which hardens, gets smoothed out by friction of the dance shoes, and you end up having slippery spots that are hard to remove. Never use Rosin on marley type floors.

While you are at it, the following should never be used on your dance floor because they break down and dissolve the vinyl floor over time: alcohol, bleach, ammonia, acetone, vinegar, coke, steel wool and solvent, and all abrasive cleaning products.

Learn more about the maintenance products you should use here!

The weather inside is frightful
You have the correct floor and that floor is properly cleaned and you got rid of those nasty products that do damage and yet the floor is still slippery. It is probably the weather in your studio. Humidity and temperature fluctuations are often responsible for slippery studio floors. Very high humidity and very low humidity can be the problem. Keep the studio humidity around 50% and you will be on your way to solving the slip issue. This can be easily accomplished by either a dehumidifier or humidifier depending on your problem. Compounding the humidity issue (don't open the windows), temperature variation plays a major role. Warm air holds moisture, cool air dumps moisture on your floor. Combined with body oils and dirt, the moisture helps create a slippery layer that greets you first thing in the morning. Dry mop the floor, clean with appropriate detergent and maintain a balance of temperature and humidity and your slippery floor shall be no more.

What about wood floors
Environment issues aside, slippery wood floors are usually about the finish. Industry standards are not dance standards so make sure the finish you use is really non-slip for the type of movement (dance) you are doing on the floor. Pointe work is especially demanding when it comes to non-slip. Rosin does more harm than good even on wood floors. It works temporarily, is messy, and then becomes a problem when it migrates into wood. Slip NoMor gets better results, is easy to clean up and is applied uniformly to the entire floor. Getting back to the studio environment, remember that wood is a living thing. It will absorb moisture and expand. It will release moisture and contract. Control the humidity and you will have a consistent wood floor.

Courtesy Stagestep

What else can I do
Dirt, grease and foreign objects are brought into the studio on the bottom of shoes. You can stop 80% of this mess from messing up your floor by putting floor mats at your main entrance and at the doorway into the studio. Welcome mats are not welcome. We are suggesting the mats with rubber blades and brushes. Clear them once a week and you will be saving time, money and having to deal with a slippery floor.

If you have questions, please feel free to give us a call for a consultation, or visit stagestep.com

Randy Swartz
President, Stagestep, Inc.
215-636-9000 ext. 105

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Lydia Abarca Mitchell, Arthur Mitchell's First Ballerina, Builds On Her Mentor's Legacy in Atlanta

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.


For more than 25 years, coaching at Ballethnic has been a lifeline back to Abarca Mitchell's days with DTH. She had a stellar career, both with the company and beyond, but left the stage at age 30 after an injury sustained performing in Dancin' on Broadway. Her husband's job transferred them to Atlanta, where she transitioned to a full-time job as a medical transcriptionist while raising a family. Now retired from her second career, Abarca Mitchell continues to forward Arthur Mitchell's legacy, not only through coaching but also by building community among DTH alumni and writing her memoirs—a fairy-tale story of a child who came from the Harlem public-housing projects and became a trailblazing Black ballerina.

Abarca Mitchell grew up during the 1950s and '60s, the oldest of seven in a tight-knit family. She always danced, taking cues from Hollywood figures until a fourth-grade teacher saw her talent and encouraged her to seek formal training. The family couldn't afford ballet lessons, but Abarca Mitchell earned a scholarship to attend The Juilliard School's Saturday youth program, and later the Harkness Ballet's professional training program. But for all of those ballet classes, Abarca Mitchell never had the opportunity to see or perform in a ballet production. She didn't understand the purpose behind ballet's tedious class exercises.

When the fast-growing Harkness Ballet moved its scholarship students to the June Taylor Studio on Broadway, Abarca Mitchell remembers hearing live drumming, clapping and laughter coming from the studio across the hall. It was a jazz class taught by Jaime Rogers, who'd played Loco in the West Side Story movie. Abarca Mitchell started sneaking into Rogers' classes.

When Harkness informed her that her scholarship was exclusively for ballet, Abarca Mitchell left the program. She saw no future for herself in the white-dominated ballet world, and focused on academics during her last two years of high school.

At 17, Abarca Mitchell met Arthur Mitchell. He had made history as the first Black principal dancer with New York City Ballet, which he had joined in 1955, and had just begun to shape what would become Dance Theatre of Harlem when he hired Abarca Mitchell in 1968. Within a month, she was back on pointe. Within two months, she was performing in Arthur Mitchell's Tones. "I didn't even know what ballet was until I was onstage," Abarca Mitchell says. "All of a sudden, it was my heart and soul."

Arthur Mitchell made sure his dancers saw NYCB perform, and subsequently brought Balanchine's Agon, Concerto Barocco and other NYCB works into the DTH repertoire. "Physically and emotionally, I felt the connection of jazz in Balanchine's choreography," Abarca Mitchell says. "His neoclassical style was just funky to me. I could totally relate."

For the first time, Abarca Mitchell danced with people who looked like her and shared the same aspirations, she says, with a leader who "saw us through his eyes of love and achievement."

In Abarca Mitchell's 30s, after a performing career that took her from DTH to the film version of The Wiz to Bob Fosse's Dancin' and beyond, her husband's job took their family to Atlanta. She soon connected with Gilreath and Waverly Lucas. The couple, also DTH alumni, were influenced by Arthur Mitchell's model when they founded Ballethnic, seeking to create access for dancers of all backgrounds to develop as classical dancers and perform a repertoire that represents the company's culturally diverse home city. Over time, Abarca Mitchell became a trusted advisor.

Abarca Mitchell goes in at least twice a year to coach Ballethnic's productions—such as Urban Nutcracker, set in Atlanta's historically Black Sweet Auburn neighborhood, and The Leopard Tale, which features the company's signature blend of classical pointe work with polyrhythmic dance forms of the African diaspora. These final rehearsals give Abarca Mitchell a way to fast-track the transfer of her mentor's values.

Two dancers in blue and black practice clothes and face masks, the woman in pointe shoes, pose together in a first arabesque tendu. Abarca Mitchell steps out of a mirrored pose as she adjusts the fingertips of the male dancer.

Lydia Abarca Mitchell works with Ballethnic's Calvin Gentry and Karla Tyson.

Courtesy Ballethnic Dance Company

She recalls that Arthur Mitchell taught his dancers to present themselves at their finest—to enter a room with their heads held high and shoulders back—and to dress, speak and walk with dignity and self-respect. He reminded them that they were pioneers and ambassadors for Blacks in ballet. As the company gained international stature—Abarca Mitchell was the first Black female ballerina to appear on the cover of Dance Magazine, in 1975—he insisted the dancers remain humble and in service to the greater mission. But he was also a taskmaster. "No nonsense, no excuses," Abarca Mitchell says. "There was no slack. If he was rehearsing something that you're not in, you'd better be on the side learning it."

"He didn't throw compliments around at all. You had to really kill yourself to get a smile from him." After a run-through, she says, "you didn't want to be singled out."

Abarca Mitchell takes a slightly different approach, though she doesn't compromise on the values her mentor instilled. When coaching large casts of all ages and different levels for Ballethnic, she has found ways to inspire people without tearing them down. She calls it a "tough love" approach.

"I've got to make them want to do it. I don't want to beat them into doing it," Abarca Mitchell says. "I tell them, 'You're here because you want to be, and because you auditioned and were accepted. Now, show me why I should keep you here.'"

"I tell them, 'I'm here to make sure you'll look good—you know: 'That looks fake. Let's make it look real. Think about what you're doing, so that it's not just a gesture.'"

Arthur Mitchell instilled this level of emotional honesty in his dancers, and it was key to the company's quick success. "We were bringing a thought forward," says Abarca Mitchell. "We were bringing a feeling forward, so that the audience could connect with us."

In addition to her position as rehearsal director for Ballethnic, Abarca Mitchell is today part of 152nd Street Black Ballet Legacy, a group of DTH alumni who seek to give voice to people responsible for the company's success in its early years. "It's incredible," she says, "how many people took something from DTH and applied it to their lives."

As Ballethnic prepares to co-host the International Association of Blacks in Dance Conference and Festival in January 2022, Abarca Mitchell hopes to help strengthen the network of dance companies associated with Ballethnic, such as Memphis' Collage Dance Collective. "The dream is for all of us to collaborate with each other," she says, "so that it becomes more normal to see a Black ballerina, so it's not just a token appearance."

Today's young dancers face different challenges from what Abarca Mitchell faced. She finds that they're more easily distracted, and sometimes act entitled, because they don't know or appreciate how hard earlier Black ballerinas like herself worked to clear a path for them. But what she's passing on will benefit them, whether they choose to pursue dance careers or become doctors, lawyers, professors or something else entirely. "The principles are the same," she says. "Work for what you want, and you will achieve it."

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