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Rantings on dancing and dance shoes and dance floors and whatnot

Blog #1:

Failures and Triumphs of Dancing on Sticky or High-friction Dance Floors

So you have mastered the latest and hottest dance moves, when the realization kicks in: there is nobody to show them off to. All your friends at the studio have already seen your moves or are too busy pondering whom they could show their latest dance moves to. Darn! But wait, there is a solution: visit one of the many nightclubs, dance clubs, dance bars or discotheques in town on the weekend and show your masterpieces of human grace and motion to a fresh and unsuspecting audience there. Sadly, though, the “ahhs” and “ohhs” and “OMGs” of the admiring crowd gathered around you are quickly drowned by the %*&#s and @*^#s uttered by you as you discover that the pivoting and spinning that worked so well during practice at the studio has turned into knee-torqueing, half-assed amateur attempts at keeping momentum. What happened? Well this happened: young ladies, easy on the eyes as they may be, stepped onto the dance floor balancing their oversized purse, a full cocktail glass, and one or two cell phones, all on top of stiletto heels. Combine this load with rhythmic motion and inevitably, glasses get dropped and drinks get spilled. Of course, it is not just the ladies. Their attempts at gooeing up the dance floor are amply supported by suave men, beer bottle in hand and oozing so much cool they could reverse global warming without even breaking a sweat. Bottles fall, beer spills. At most one hour after the place fills up, the floor is filthy and sticky, more like fly paper than a dance floor. For most of the crowd, once drunk enough, this is not a problem: sticky dance floors have never stopped anyone from texting or from standing stoically in the middle of a dance floor, chillin’ without moving a limb. For us dancers, however, these floors are hell on earth because we can’t slide and pivot as we are used to in the studio. We quickly learn that it takes two to tango: friction is a physical phenomenon that is not the property of one material, but rather the property of two materials in contact with each other. No contact, no friction. Suede-soled shoes provide ideal friction when in contact with pristine, well-maintained wood floors in studios and ballrooms. Bring suede in contact with Marley, vinyl, plastic laminates, or poorly maintained wood floors, and all the heavenly friction properties of suede-on-good-wood turn into agony and frustration. Bring suede in contact with drink-drenched, filthy floors and you get friction properties that resemble those of disk brakes in automobiles: great for dissipating momentum, not so much for keeping it, as we dancers would like.

So, what is the dancing weekend-warrior to do? First, this is what not to do: sprinkle baby powder, sugar, or other friction-lowering home remedies on the dance floor. Although it works and your suede-soled shoes now let you slide and glide like an angel, you’ve also created a huge safety risk for other dancers who foolishly stepped into you mine field of unexpected slickness. Please, by all means, do not make dangerous changes to areas shared by others. Doing so is inconsiderate at best, and best called what it really is: foolishly and negligently selfish. A far better solution for yourself and for others is to make a change to your own shoes, and it is easy, as you will see if you read on.

Friction is a property of two materials in contact with each other. While you can’t (or shouldn’t) change the material of the dance floor (gooey, sticky slime over whatever was there at the beginning of the evening), you can change the second material that’s in contact with the dance floor: your shoe soles – at least in the case of most social dances (sorry BBoys and Girls, this column has nothing to offer to you). This can be done by sticking even the thinnest of slivers of material onto your soles, as long as that material, when in contact with sticky slime and/or other unfavorable dance floors, produces a lower coefficient of friction. Well, at least that’s an initial step in the right direction. A perfect solution it is not, as I shall elaborate. For the sake of argument, let me propose this theoretical solution: one great coefficient-of-friction-lowering material would be a thin sheet of ice. Take it out of the freezer, somehow stick it under your shoes, and off you go. Or not, as surely you will slip and fall immediately. The problem: some materials are just too slick for themselves, and ice is one of them, but then, it is at the extreme end of the low-friction spectrum and I used it just to make a point. What’s needed is a material with in-between properties, or, better yet, a smart combination of materials that does even better.

While you may not have thought about this explicitly, let me tell you that most social dance styles call for seemingly impossible friction properties. To explain this properly, I will quickly have to explain a tiny bit of high-school physics. Don’t tune out, I simplified it so it doesn’t sound like physics. Friction by itself is not a force, it only becomes a force when two materials in contact with each other are being pushed relative to each other. A foot sliding over a dance floor experiences friction as a force that resists the motion of the foot. A foot pivoting on the dance floor experiences resistance to the pivoting motion. When dancers complain about sticky or high-friction dance floors, they actually mean floors that resist pivoting too much. No dancer has ever complained about too little resistance to pivoting. The sheet of ice I mentioned earlier would be great for dancers, since dancers could easily pivot 10 or more turns, as do ice-skaters. The problem with ice is that, while it lowers resistance to pivoting (a good thing), it also lowers resistance to sliding, and much too much at that (a bad thing).

This, now, brings us to the infomercial part of this blog. Having danced for many years, and having studied mechanical engineering for many more years, I developed a hybrid sole (hybrid here means that it comprises two materials) that produces exactly that desirable property for dancers that I described above: on sticky floors or floors made of high-friction materials, my hybrid soles lower resistance to pivoting a lot, but they lower resistance to sliding only a little. That means that dancers can pivot easily, but don’t increase their risk of slipping and falling substantially. These hybrid soles are now available for purchase at a ridiculously low price at my new webstore I have been using and perfecting these soles for my own use for over six years and I guarantee that they work exactly as described in this blog.