Irish dancing is a significant activity for 2 of our children (and may be for the third eventually). One nice resource is to have a practice stage for the kids to work out their steps. I initially built a stage about 5 years ago using a pretty neat set of instructions I found on Zebediah & Beauregard’s Front Porch (update:
Z&B no longer accessible he’s back!). The stage was a 6′ x 6′ stage, using a lattice underneath and window weatherstripping for spring.
We moved to a new country and new Irish dance school, our first dancer grew about 2 feet, and the 6′ square was a bit undersize. About 3 years ago, I added two 8′ x 4′ plywood panels with lattice. Unlike the initial stage, the decking was only .25″ thick. I noticed the creak more than my dancers but I resolved to stick to .5″ thick plywood sheathing the next time. The initial 6′ stage had also become a bit slick, so we bought a shower pan liner (vinyl sheet) that you can tape down on top of the plywood and it lengthens the stage life.
It was finally time to revisit the whole stage concept. First, the stage was an odd shape that made the dancers have to navigate a corner. Second, it was often covered with Lego and Playmobil and other toys. We migrated the toys to a different room and, having made that commitment, decided to expand the stage out. We ended up with a 12′ x 18′ rectangle.
I decided to approach this stage differently from the last ones. First, getting the lattice work done is a real pain. I routered the underlayer, so that it fit together nicely. I would probably have been better off cutting long and short strips. But I decided to do something completely different this time.
The goal was to maximize my use of plywood and minimize my time fiddling around with wood. Also, the weather stripping is pretty pricey as your stage gets bigger. The alternative I chose was to avoid a lattice and use a “pier and beam” idea, and replace the weatherstripping with styrofoam.
In my case, I ended up buying 6 pieces of 8′ x 4′ half inch plywood (about C$18 a sheet at Lowes). I also bought a C$10 pack of .5″ styrofoam sheets, which are precut to smaller size and useful for crafts, etc.
If you haven’t already noticed, I am a relatively lazy craftsman. My plan was based largely on making as few cuts as possible. Three of the plywood sheets were not cut at all. One was cut in half (lengthwise) and two others had 6″ strips cut off them. The lengthwise remainder (8′ x 2′) was cut into 6″ squares. I then scored the styrofoam and snapped it into 6″ pieces. In my case, I needed about 56 squares but your number might be higher or lower.
I pre-drilled holes to enable the screw heads to be countersunk. I avoided this on my first stage by inserting the screws from below. My dancer tripped on the second stages because the screwheads were poking out. Then I started to place the wood and styrofoam squares underneath the decking.
The styrofoam makes a filling between the two pieces of wood, like a sandwich. This is a bit of a change from the other stages, where the padding was at the bottom. But since the styrofoam does not come with its own adhesive, placing it in the middle means I can use the screws to hold it in place.
I placed a 6″ square of styrofoam on top of a 6″ square of plywood and screwed those into the corners of the plywood sheet that was the stage top. Then I screwed in styrofoam/plywood sandwiches every 2 feet, which works out to about 15″ pairs of 6″ squares per 8′ x 4′ sheet.
However, when I got to the edges, I slid the squares out so that they could be used to connect sheets. This saved me wood and styrofoam, and also meant that the stage would hold together better. It meant a bit of planning to make sure that I didn’t duplicate edges, but when I placed all the wood in the basement, it fit together like a puzzle.
This was significantly faster than when I did the lattice and it seems to retain the same spring. All told, it was cheaper too, and I was able to complete the whole stage (with screws) for about C$150, including tax.
And that is the reason that we have a plywood practice stage rather than one of the pre-built practice stages you can purchase. Time and materials makes building a dance stage pretty straight forward and keeps costs down. Based on our experiences so far, these homemade stages have sufficient spring to reduce the ankle injuries Irish dancers often seem to have.
If you do not have access to a saw, going the 6″ square route might make it easier to have Lowes or your local hardware store cut the wood for you. I used nearly 200 screws, so I would recommend a power screwdriver or drill with a screwdriver bit.