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Ballroom Dance

J M (Mike) Nelson
Phone: 612-810-0157

Music Ethics

Providing a healthy music environment is well within the capabilities of any venue. Not to do so is irresponsible. Nature does not excuse ignorance, and laws of nature cannot be suspended for our pleasure or impunity.

Most of us know, and any senior citizen can likely confirm, that hearing loss is gradual for most people, rarely making itself evident before middle age and often not noticed until well after child-rearing years. Perhaps that is why our youth seem unconcerned about noise levels. Many gravitate toward excess noise as entertainment. Parents, likely still unaffected by their noise-related folly, seem oblivious to the potential harm. Nature, as usual, is not so kind; we ignore the unfortunate gap between the threshold of damage and the threshold of pain, and we accumulate hearing damage that is irreversible and that does not manifest itself until well after it is too late to take corrective action.

According to OSHA, noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common occupational illnesses [sic], but it is often ignored because there are no visible effects. Hearing loss usually develops over a long period of time, and, except in rare cases, there is no pain. Though there are numerous hearing protection devices (HPDs) available for workers, these should be considered a last option to control noise exposure, preferably used during the necessary time it takes to implement engineering or administrative controls. HPDs should be used only when such controls are not feasible. (OSHA. Noise and Hearing Conservation.)

OSHA standards are clear. Employers must make hearing protectors available to workers exposed to noise above a time-weighted average (TWA) of 85 dB, but use of protectors is optional unless the worker experiences a permanent, significant shift in hearing. Hearing protectors must be worn by all employees exposed to a TWA of 90 dB or more. (OSHA Noise Exposure Standards.) Even though some criticize OSHA for being too rigid, others consider them lax.

Industrial employees are not the only workers at risk. Angela Babin took sound level measurements at seven different Broadway shows with several different types of orchestra pits and acoustics. All but one exhibited sound levels above those recommended by the ACGIH. Three shows exhibited sound levels at which the OSHA Action Level was exceeded. One performance exceeded the OSHA Ceiling of 115 dBA. Only one performance exhibited sound levels that were under the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists recommendations of 82 dBA.  (Babin, Angela. Sound Level Measurements. Art Hazard News, Volume 18, No. 1, 1995.)

OSHA also confirms the generally recognized method for approximating noise levels, conversation. According to OSHA, and easily confirmed by anyone with a dB meter:
When noise levels are above 80 dB, people have to speak very loudly.
When noise levels are between 85 and 90 dB, people have to shout.
When noise levels are greater than 95 dB, people have to move close together to hear each other at all. (OSHA. Noise and Hearing Conservation.)

Certainly most of us have been at venues where we knew, or should have known, that noise levels were above 90 dB, and we were probably accumulating irreversible hearing damage. If we have ever had the misfortune to feel pain from excess noise, such damage was immediate, more extensive, and permanent. The eventual return of normal hearing should not be perceived as evidence that the accumulation of irreversible damage was not accelerated by the deafening experience. Considering the opportunities for excess noise in our culture, it is inconceivable that we all do not have accumulating hearing damage.

Therefore, it seems irrational and irresponsible for any entertainment venue to provide damaging sound, and it seems comparably irrational that any knowledgeable person would patronize such an establishment. Even so, bars, night clubs, ballrooms, dance studios, theaters, automobiles, homes, and personal listening devices regularly deliver damaging sound that is elective and evidently enjoyed by the recipient. This does not speak well for the intelligence of the species.

Ballroom dance, as well as any other social dance venue, should be an exception to popular entertainment practice. Social dance presumes conversation as well as dance; thus the ease of ascertaining healthy sound levels. If you can't converse comfortably on the dance floor and in the seating area, the music is too loud. If one needs to shout to be heard in your dance venue, then you are deliberately and unarguably inflicting hearing damage on your clientele, and you are doing so deliberately even if not with malice.

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