Nanaimo’s Ballroom Dance Society says city council is out of step after plans were announced to replace an existing hardwood floor at Beban Park with vinyl, a move that could drastically limit ballroom dancing.
John Maher, president of the non-profit dance society, said if the city goes ahead with installing vinyl as planned, it will likely spell the end of the popular Island Fantasy Ball that attracts dancers from Victoria, Vancouver and international locations.
To host the event, which is also the B.C. championships of competitive ballroom dancing, DanceSport B.C. requires venues have hardwood floors only and won’t sanction facilities with vinyl flooring because of safety concerns for the dancers.
“Hardwood floors is as important to ballroom dancing as ice is to hockey,” said Maher. “We don’t see this as an attack on ballroom dancing, but friendly fire that is going to hurt us just the same.”
The Island Fantasy Ball, which the dance society has hosted since 1993, took place May 7-8 at Beban Park. The society also hosts an annual Christmas Ball.
Coun. Merv Unger said he has attended the event in the past and found it to be “a very enjoyable evening.”
“For the young and not so young, it’s a tremendous night out,” he said.
Maher said plans to change the floor came as a surprise, because the dance society participated in the consultation process around Beban Park redevelopment and there was no mention of removing the 35-year-old floor the city says has reached the end of its life.
A 2009 consultation on the $16-million Beban Park redevelopment recommended the floor be upgraded to a sprung hardwood and the lighting also be upgraded.
But the city wants to replace the hardwood with an unwaxed vinyl product that is easier to maintain and serves trade shows better, and the lighting was downgraded to cafeteria-style fluorescent lighting.
Maher said he is concerned that facilities are being shifted toward commercial use rather than for community social events. He said unwaxed vinyl is too grippy for dancers and could result in knee and ankle injuries, while waxed vinyl is also dangerous because it is too slippery.
Council has delayed tearing up the hardwood, initially scheduled for this summer, by at least one year. Mayor John Ruttan said the additional time can be used to discuss the issue further.
“We’ll have a year to look at this and come up with a solution and we will,” said Ruttan.
Coun. Diana Johnstone, who serves as chairwoman of the Parks, Recreation and Culture Commission, said she has arranged for a supplier of vinyl to provide a large piece of the material for dancers to try out.
“Just test it out to see if it’s at all possible,” she told Maher, adding that there are more than 30 types of vinyl flooring, some of which look and feel like hardwood flooring.
The Beban Park Social Centre is home to the largest hardwood surface on Vancouver Island, which enables the society to host the annual ball. Bowen Park also has a decent-sized hardwood surface, but is not a big enough room to the host roughly 600 dancers who attend the annual event.
Refurbishing the existing hardwood at Beban would cost about $15,000, an amount the Nanaimo Ballroom Dance Society said it would be happy to contribute to through fundraising efforts.
Rising room rental fees are also threatening ballroom dancing in Nanaimo.
Due to increased rental costs at the Bowen Auditorium, the society holds one dance per month at Bowen and two more outside Nanaimo. It used to host dances three nights a month at Bowen.
“Following the recent shocking rent increase for the Bowen Park Auditorium, the loss of the Beban Park Social Centre may be a fatal blow to ballroom dancing in Nanaimo,” said Maher, adding that one night’s rental at Bowen is triple the cost of two nights at venues outside the city.
Friday night rentals have increase 112 per cent between 2005 and 2011 and are expected to jump another 40 per cent this year, which would bring a Friday night rental to $600.
Ballroom dancing QuickFacts
• Ballroom dancing began in Nanaimo in the 1930s
• Parks and rec department introduced classes in the 1980s
• Silver Slipper Dance Club, then Nanaimo Ballroom Dance Club created
• Nanaimo Ballroom Dance Club incorporated in 1993 to host Island Fantasy Ball
• Club has a $100,000 budget in 2011, 60 per cent of which goes to host IFB
• Club has 150-180 members