8: Powder or Oil?
This really ought to come under a category “being considerate to your fellow dancers”... neither!
Okay, so you might find the dance floor too “stiff” (you can’t slide as easily as you would like), but that doesn’t mean everyone else does – and who are you to decide to walk talc (or whatever) onto the floor to make it easier for yourself but potentially dangerous for somebody else? What you create is a slippery patch amongst the stiffness; a floor of “uneven temperament”. If there's an accident, who will take responsibility? A broken hip is no laughing matter, and can be life-changing.
Never mind what used to be common in the old days, we now live in an age of liability and blame. The floor you find is the floor you take, and it is the organiser’s responsibility to ask for it to be kept in good condition by those responsible for the hall. If you find the floor repeatedly doesn’t suit you, even having taken it up with the organiser, vote with your feet and take your business elsewhere.
All you can do is see to your shoes. Assuming you are using proper ballroom dancing shoes with chamois (or similar) soles, grip is increased by bringing up the nap on the chamois using a very stiff wire brush (easily available for the purpose from ballroom suppliers – a normal suede brush won't do*) to remove the layer of debris that builds up. That’s great for a fast floor, but you can’t easily decrease grip. What I recommend is keeping an old pair of dance shoes in your bag (with worn unbrushed soles), especially for stiff floors.
* I have even tried those battery-powered abrasive rollers meant for removing hard skin from feet - it didn’t work, dance floor varnish build-up is harder than hard skin! Proper dance shoe brushes are actually small patches of the material used to make industrial wire brush rollers, attached to a handle.
If you must use talc, apply directly to the shoes and rub well in, then knock off any surplus (not inside the hall) – see footnote. Please do not scatter it onto the floor by your seat and make a mess for the cleaners. Some dancers do this on arrival, by habit, even before they’ve checked what the floor is really like! If you can see where you’ve been by the trail of white, you are going about it the wrong way.
The same goes for oil or Brylcreem, used to increase grip (with a chamois sole, if a good brushing hasn’t done the job). If any of that got onto the floor itself, it would be lethal for anyone wearing new leather soles!
Many halls ban powder on their floors anyway – they have to clean it up, and it abrades the coating on the floor causing damage and increasing the maintenance costs (and, as a consequence, making the floor even stiffer!).
All that said: in general, a moderately slippery floor is much better for dancing than a grippy floor so long as it is not patchy. The older you get, the less resilient your joints become. You think that means you need a good grip? No. If your foot won’t slide easily, as your body moves (particularly turning) the force is transmitted through your ankle, knee, and hip. Strong muscles protect the joints, weakening muscles can’t.
there is also a point at which a slippery floor becomes dangerous, and
unskilled dancers who do not carry their weight perfectly over their
feet will feel unsafe on even a moderately fast floor – they need to
keep their chamois soles in good order (or resort to rubber!), and
sacrifice ease of turning as a result.
The best, least messy, way I have found to apply talc to shoes (and not the floor!) is as follows. Do this outside!
1. If necessary, scrub up the chamois on both shoes with a wire brush – the talc will not be absorbed if there is a varnish build-up.
2. Hold one shoe sole upwards and sprinkle a layer of talc onto the sole (I have never found it necessary to treat the heel, because the slide is taken on the ball of foot). Use the sole of the other shoe to rub the talc well in.
3. Swap shoes and repeat.
4. Knock off any surplus talc. The remaining talc is ingrained in the chamois, and will lubricate contact with the floor without leaving a white trail.
Treated shoes on an already fast floor will be very slippery indeed. Restore grip by wire-brushing.