Build Your Own Practice Dance Floor
In the new Swungover book, Practice Swing: The Swungover* Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Guide To Improving Your Own Dancing, the book ends with a special appendix that tells people how to build their own practice dance floor. David Rehm gets a good deal of the credit for the floor’s design (and for teaching me how to use a hammer); we built two of them over the last 6 years. As it can be a little tricky without pictures, here is a version of that appendix with photos to help.
(We recommend reading the entire article before starting to build your own, so you can choose which one you want to go with. Also, check out some of the comments, there’s some great advice there.)
Provided below are directions for (1) a simple raw wood floor, (2) a sealed floor, and (3) a floor with rounded trim, which is a lot more comfortable to hit in the middle of the night when you’ve forgotten it’s there.
This floor lived on generic wall-to-wall carpeting without harming the carpet for about three years, except you had to readjust it after a few hours of dancing. I would not recommend putting it alone on wood floor without something between it and the floor.
Basic Dance Floor
This will basically be a raw wood dance floor experience, which can be satisfying to dance on. It also means putting the dance floor together will only take a couple hours from start to finish. You will need…
The space to put the floor. Seems obvious, but you’d be surprised. Make sure your space can fit whatever size dance floor you plan on laying down in it.
2 pieces of 4×8’ plywood. (We’ve used both ½- or ¾-inch thickness. The ¾ is really heavy, but cushions sound better for downstairs neighbors.) Note on wood type: The great dance floors of the swing era were mostly maple, occasionally mahogany. For this reason, I chose maple plywood, though it really probably doesn’t make a big difference because plywood is pretty different from the wood slats of vintage dance floors.
Maple turned out to be more expensive and harder to get, so if you’re on a budget of money or time, I’d recommend going with whatever they have cheap at the local hardware store. If you plan on moving the floor a lot, we recommend getting the hardware store to cut the pieces down to 3.5×8’ as it’s a little more easily-maneuvered when folded. (It still gets heavy and is a 2-person job for moving. Just note that though it will be fantastic for working on Lindy Hop technique, social dancing, and even practicing most air steps, it will be a little tight for all-out Lindy Hop dancing).
A “piano” hinge or two 3’ or 4’ hinges. A piano hinge is the long, 5 or 6-foot hinge that can be found on pianos. But all that really matters is you get enough hinge to cover the 8-foot span of the plywood. Make sure the hinge is as flat as possible so that you will be able to fold the dance floor in two and have the two pieces of plywood lie on top of each other.
Wood screws. Make sure they aren’t longer than the plywood is thick.
Drill or screwdriver. To put the screws in.
1. Put the plywood pieces down next to each other and decide which sides you want up. Then turn both over.
2. Push the sides together so that you have an 8×8’ square (or 7×8’ if it was cut).
3. Put the hinges down the middle seam so that when you screw it down with wood screws, the dance floor can be folded into a 4×8’ or 3.5×8’ slab for storage. We put a strip of packing tape along the hinge in order to protect the floor/carpet from the possible destruction a hinge like that could do.
4. Ta-da. You now have a foldable dance floor.
Executive Dance Floor
If you want your dance floor to be extra rugged against spills, dirt, sweat, and basically anything moisture related, you will want to put sealant on it. This will also feel more like the floors you dance on socially. For this, you will need, additionally…
Dura Seal brand polyurethane. When researching my three favorite dance floors to dance on across the country, all of them had two things in common: They were all made of maple wood, and they all used Dura Seal brand sealant. You may have to drive a little to get it, or order it online, as it’s not very common in the larger hardware stores. (I have also heard people argue the type of sealant doesn’t make a big difference; I’m not an expert, I just found it interesting enough that my favorite dance floors had the same thing in common. So I went with it. After 6 years, I’ve been pleased with my choice. I will say I’ve danced on floors that use green-friendly poly, and the stuff has a tendency to disintegrate into dust at the sight of Lindy Hopping.)
By the way, for your curiosity, those three dance floors I researched were: The Bohemian in Cleveland, The Spanish Ballroom in Glen Echo, and Sylvia Syke’s personal dance floor, which she installed herself.
Painters’ tarp. To lay the plywood on while you put sealant on it, and perhaps one to put over it if it will be drying outside.
Brushes and cloths. For the sealant and mineral oil.
All of the following steps should be done before you make the dance floor, to prepare the wood. So do these steps first, and then follow the directions for the basic floor above.
1. Find area to put the tarp down, and then put the plywood on top of the tarp.
2. Follow the directions on the Dura Seal can. This will require several cycles of putting sealant on, letting it dry for 8 hours, sanding it smooth, cleaning it with mineral spirits, and then putting sealant on again. And don’t cheat. If you cut out any part of the process, the floor won’t be as good. The good news is, you will feel very rugged afterward and probably want to buy something flannel. (One reason why a lot of people dread their local venues waxing the floors is that most places cheat the process — because it’s very expensive to hire waxers to put down sealant, wait for it to dry 8 hours, sand it down, clean it, and repeat that process for several days while they turn away business. It’s your dancing shoes that will have to sand away the bumpy layers of wax for the next several months.)
3. You will want at least two coats, probably three or four. (Look for “raw” looking patches from a few different angles — you want it to look equally shiny.)
4. Once your pieces are properly sealed, follow the directions for the basic floor.
With Added Trim
I highly recommend you add rounded trim along the edges of your new plywood dance floor. The rounded trim will allow you to comfortably slip off the edge and keep you from stubbing your toes on it. You will need…
4 long units rounded trim. The same thickness as the plywood, but at least a few inches inches longer than 8 feet (or a few inches longer than 7 feet for the shorter sides if you’re making an 8×7’ floor).
Compound miter saw.
1. Saw the trim so that the corners are at 45-degree angles, so they will meet the corners of the adjoining trim perfectly. (Like a wooden picture frame.) If your rounded trim is ½ inch by ½ inch, for instance, then the inner side of a piece of trim will be 8 feet long and the outer side, 8 feet 1 inch long. Sand the cut edges lightly. Make measurement adjustments if you have created the 7×8’ dance floor.
2. Since two of the sides of the dance floor will have the ability to fold in half, two of your units of trim will need to be cut in half. Sand the edges lightly. In the 7X8′ dance floor, it’s the 7′ length that will be cut in half for this purpose.
3. Seal the trim (preferably at the same time as the plywood is being sealed).
4. Make the basic dance floor.
5. Glue the rounded trim with wood glue to the edges of the dance floor, making sure to account for the sides that need the half pieces of trim and the sides that need the whole pieces.
6. When the glue dries, nail the trim into the plywood every foot or so along the trim, being mindful that the nails don’t break the surface of the dance floor. (Don’t skimp on this part of the process. If you only glue the trim to the dance floor, the trim will get pulled off as the dance floor moves across the fibers of the carpet over time. The nails AND glue are your best bet.)
Buy something flannel. You’ve earned it.