As the owner of a brand new dance school, the process of putting together all the required equipment for dance and ballet studios is still very fresh in my mind. The following is a list of what is needed in each dance studio:
1) Marley or other vinyl floor covering. This is the preferred dance surface for ballet, modern/jazz, and tap instruction. There are several manufacturers of vinyl dance flooring products. Most come in 5-6′ wide rolls in lengths up to about 100′. Marley is usually rolled onto a hardwood floor and “floats” on the floor without any adhesive other than special vinyl tape used on seams and edges. Since the marley is not permanently affixed to the floor, it can be rolled up if needed for a performance in another venue. One important thing to note is that rosin cannot be used by ballet dancers on marley – the rosin damages the vinyl surface and is very difficult to remove.
2) Sound system for CDs and/or Bluetooth connection to a iPhone/Android device. It is essential to have a sound system with a remote control so the instructor can easily repeat sections of music as needed.
3) Barres, either wall mounted or standalone. Please refer to the section on barre construction below for more detailed information.
4) Wall Mirrors. Mirrors should be mounted on at least one wall (preferably two adjoining walls). They should start as close to the floor as possible, but even young dancers can see their feet from anywhere in the studio as long as the bottom of the mirror is lower than about 15 inches from the floor. The top of mirrors should be 6′ minimum from the floor.
5) A small table for instructor’s notebook or other instructional materials can also be used for the sound system.
6) Large wall clock. Dancers and instructors need to know class start and end times.
Ballet Barres – Build or Buy?
One of the most important pieces of equipment in a ballet school is the barre. There are many commercially available ballet barres, but in the end we decided to make our own barres for the following reasons:
7) Commercially available barres are expensive. Typically, a professional grade 12′ barre costs between $400-$1000 for a free-standing model, and between $300-$600 for a wall mounted version.
8) Our experience with commercially available free standing barres is that even the highest quality models eventually have failures at the connection points.
9) We wanted barres that were absolutely rock solid and would last for many years. We believe that most commercial free-standing barres are too lightweight and “flimsy”.
10) We wanted a barre system that was flexible enough to meet the needs of our school’s schedule of ballet classes for many age ranges as well as modern, jazz, and tap classes.
In order to give our school the maximum flexibility in our class schedule, we decided to build two free standing 12 foot barres for each of our two dance studios. We chose free standing barres so we could (1) have dancers on both sides of the barre and (2) orient the barres as either a single 24′ span or two parallel 12′ spans. Since (unlike commercial barres) we have no need to dismantle the barres for shipping, we decided to eliminate joints (and hence the possibility of joint failures) by using steel tubes and welding the joints.
The exact specifications of the barres are as follows:
– Tubing material is schedule 40 1 ½ inch steel black pipe. This pipe has an outside diameter of 1.9″. The use of 1.9″ diameter tubing (a) makes welds much stronger and (b) is very comfortable to grip
– The top of the barre is 12′ long and is 42″ above the floor.
– The legs of the barre are an inverted “T” with the “feet” (i.e. the part of the leg that lays flat on the floor) being 2′ long.
– The top of the barre overhangs the legs by 18″ on either side. This allows for easy moving of the barre.
– We decided to have a lower barre welded between the legs at a height of 32″ for our younger dancers.
Schedule 40 pipe is available at most steel suppliers (search “steel pipe cityname”). The pipe comes in 21′ lengths, and the steel vendor will usually make one cut per pipe at no additional cost. I had the pipes cut into 12′ and 9′ lengths to minimize waste.
Our welder had no trouble fabricating the barres. Included in the fabrication was thorough de-burring of all exposed ends. The result is a smooth, rounded edge that does not require any type of end cap.
After our welder completed the barres I purchased rubber feet (1.5″ diameter and 1″ thick) and bolted them to the ends of the “feet” of the barre. This has worked extremely well in eliminating damage to the marley in our studios.
To finish the barres, I first sanded the surfaces with 180 grit sandpaper to smooth out the horizontal gripping surfaces and prep for painting. I then sprayed with textured black paint. Three coats resulted in a beautiful finish that resembles powder coating at a fraction of the price.
Dancer response to the barres has been uniformly excellent. Though heavy (they weigh about 60 lbs each) two young dancers have no trouble moving them into the center and back up against the walls when needed. We have had no issues with the fixed heights of the barres.