Bristol CI Guidelines

The Bristol community have worked with guidelines from 2013 to present. The international CI world has moved on and changed in many ways since then and many communities’ guidelines have evolved and changed. Below are the current draft guidelines, update in November 2021.  See this link for an idea of guidelines used around the world as well as articles outlining why they are important for safety and inclusivity.

This document has been compiled by the Bristol Contact Improvisation Core Group over many years. Initially compiled by Jocasta Crofts and Kirsty Hannah in January 2013 (click to see) then updated with influences from other guidelines around the world in particular the Philadelphia Contact Improvisation guidelines. Thank you to everyone who has contributed.

While this document covers topics that could be considered difficult, it is aimed at creating an environment that is safe for everyone so that we can allow fun, creativity and learning through our dances. Creating Safer Braver Spaces.
It is an evolving document and welcomes input as we all move, learn, and grow. If you wish to discuss these guidelines, or any issues that arise for you personally please contact one of the Bristol CI core team.


1. Practicalities

2. Safety & Injury Prevention

3. Psychological Safety and Trauma Prevention

4. Consent, Boundaries and Behaviour

5. Developing Skills

6. Sexuality

7. Inclusiveness

8. Children

9. Music

10. Sound and talking

11. Working with these guidelines

1. Practicalities

  • The dance space is a shoe free zone if possible. Bare feet are recommended for dancing, socks can be slippery.
  • Smooth clothes without zips don’t get caught on clothing or other dancers. Please take off buckles, belts, jewellery, rings, earrings. Any of these could catch or scratch. Some people enjoy wearing long sleeves for comfort and sliding movements.

Some people like wearing kneepads. These can make it more comfortable to take weight in kneeling positions, especially on hard floors.

Health and Hygiene

  • The possible physical closeness of contact dance asks for our mindfulness. This will be picked up again in ‘consent, boundaries and safety.’
  • Come to a class and or jam when you are feeling well. We would like to engender a culture of self and other care. This includes reducing transmission of colds, flu and other viral or bacterial infections. Please cover open wounds, cold sores, warts, etc.
  • Please wash your hands thoroughly on your way in and after a session. It can be really appreciated by others in the space to take a shower before you come. Come in clean clothes for the purpose of dancing in. Bring a towel and spare t-shirt in case you find yourself sweating a lot.
  • Please keep toenails and fingernails trimmed, this avoids scratching and snagging.
  • Please avoid intoxicants before coming to CI. Check with a GP around prescription drugs, and check in with yourself and others around medication that may make you drowsy or affect your judgement/sensing capacities. Over the counter pain-killers could mean that you don’t feel something you may need to feel to keep yourself safe.
  • CI may involve intense physical exercise. Please check your hydration levels, bring water, and don’t eat a heavy meal just beforehand.


  • Try to be on time so we can all start together. Being part of the opening and closing circles can support group safety, and allows sharing of information about personal and group safety needs. The opening circle can also facilitate the development of trust, which in turn can lead to more nourishing and fun CI.
  • If you are unable to be on time please check in with the facilitator before joining in so they can briefly check in with you and give you/direct you to any important info.

Opening/Closing Circles

  • In the circle we invite you to communicate about any injuries that might affect your dance. You may be invited to offer a brief personal sharing on what you may be dancing with at this time.
  • The circle is a chance to briefly share and connect. It is not a time to fix, be fixed or advise. We suggest saving direct communications to others for another time on a 1:1 basis if explicitly wanted.
  • Sharings seem to land well when they come from your direct experience as (“I” statements) in the moment. We have noticed that abstract thoughts or a prepared agenda can take us away from the practice of CI and being connected with ourselves and others.

The closing circle is an invitation to harvest our experiences from dancing CI. You may choose to speak or not speak. This could be called an opportunity to express insights, gratitude, honesty and impact in the spirit of collective enquiry and on-going curiosity.

Back to Contents

2. Physical Safety & Injury Prevention
We are each responsible for the safety of others and ourselves in the space. We also each dance at our own risk. Serious injury is possible when dancing Contact Improvisation. Follow your intuition if something feels safe/unsafe. If you are not getting a clear “YES” it is always okay to say “NO” or “STOP” if something is uncomfortable or you are feeling unsafe. This is the same in a taught class as it is in a jam.

  • Generally don’t hold onto your partner’s landing gear (hands and feet, legs and arms), or lock limbs or joints.
  • Develop your peripheral vision so that you are taking care of others in the space, and your partner/partners.
  • Develop softness and responsiveness so collisions can be re-directed. At the same time take responsibility for some of your weight by maintaining a level of muscle tone.
  • Take care when rolling over/in contact with sensitive areas of other dancers. These can include but are not limited to; the chest, fingers, knees, neck, head and feet. The opening circle is for you to indicate areas of particular sensitivity.
  • Practice falling safely, and/or take a class in how to fall safely to reduce risk of injury, particularly to wrists, knees, elbows, hips and head/face.
  • Be mindful of your responsibility to others if you are dancing at speed, moving with weight, jumping, lifting/being lifted.
  • You might find that doing a movement at half speed allows mind, body and perception to cooperate better to dance safer. ‘Can we move at the speed of our attention?’
  • Cultivate a patient curiosity, and a soft and supple relationship with the floor.
  • Please lie down, lounge, do bodywork on the sides of the space so the central area is for active CI
  • We keep a first aid kit at the side of the dance floor in case of accidents.

Back to Contents

3. Psychological Safety and Trauma Prevention
Everyone has different histories around the meaning and impact of touch in their lives. Many of us have experienced relational trauma, which may even be one of the reasons we are seeking safe and consensual touch in CI.

  • Be aware that your intention may be different than your impact.
  • Keep checking in with yourself around the clarity of your intention/s in your dance
  • Maintain curiosity in how your touch and invitation to connect is being received by your partner, this may be with eye contact and proximity as well as physical touch.
  • Remember you can withdraw consent at any moment to any person whether they are another dancer or a facilitator. (see Consent)
  • Relational trauma may not be consciously remembered and can be triggered at any time. If you feel unsure, overwhelmed, or numb, slow things down, give time and ask for support from a trusted friend or the facilitator.
  • If you feel that you are getting carried away in a dance come back to moving at the speed of your attention.
  • If you experience physical/psychological demands that are taking you over your learning edge too quickly/strongly you don’t have to give a reason to step out of the dance you are in, movements you are practicing, exercise you may have been given in a class.
  • You are given absolute permission to care for yourself.
  • Give yourself time between dances to absorb, be nourished by, be curious about sensations, echoes, desires, and your current capacity.
  • Trying to get somewhere too quickly, believing we need to do things well, doing the same as others, believing we should be able to do something when others make it look easy can lead to psychological as well as physical injury.
  • Ask for support from more experienced dancers, organisers, facilitators sooner rather than later if you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, reactive, sad, or angry. It is not others responsibility to look after these feelings, at the same time someone may be able to sit with you for a bit, briefly check in with you at the end of a jam/class. The community can also sign-post you to local resources for support.
  • If you feel that a non-cis gender identity, or queer sexual identity is inhibiting/prohibiting you from taking part please bring this to the attention of the facilitator so that together we can create a space that can become more welcoming to you.

Back to Contents

4. Consent, Boundaries and Behavior
Contact Improvisation is a practice that brings us into relationship with others, both human and non-human. Both conscious and unconscious power dynamics exist within all relationships. There are differentials in privilege, ranking, experience, age, race and culture that create uneven power relationships. For example, a facilitator of a class has a level of experience and expertise in an aspect of CI and or dance that comes with social power. This gives them both a right and a responsibility. Organisers, door keepers, core members and experienced dancers all carry different qualities of social power that could be used for personal gain, and or power over others. Persons from different racial and cultural backgrounds also carry varying qualities of social power in terms of wealth, health, language and social power in everyday life and access to social spaces. Our aim is to become conscious of how these power dynamics might play out in, and exist within both a jam and class space. An attitude of openness and curiosity is requested, both around our own individual power and privilege, and others and how power dynamics are expressed in the CI space.

  • Just because you are in a CI class does not mean you consent to physical touch.
  • Consent can be granted or revoked verbally or nonverbally at any time.
  • Stay attuned to how your partners’ wishes may change through the course of a dance, or from one dance to the next.
  • Consent between two dancers does not necessarily extend to others.
  • Do not expect a person to dance in a particular way with you, just because they were doing so with another dancer.
  • Express your own boundaries clearly and respect those of others – both are equally important.
  • Unequal power can interfere with consent. Be aware that advantage can create power dynamics that, intentionally or not, diminish the ability of the less advantaged person to consent. These dynamics can play across such factors as expertise, experience, education, class, physical strength, size, ability/disability, age, race, ethnicity, gender and gender identity.
  • Check in verbally with your partner(s) if you are unsure whether your dancing is consensual.
  • Sexuality and romance are not inherently part of contact improvisation practice and we ask that they not be the focus of dancing in this space, even if consensual. This is not to make sexuality bad or even frowned upon but rather to respect the inherent power of sexuality, and the form of CI as separate from other legitimate practices to explore sexuality and romance.
  • You have the right and responsibility to maintain your own boundaries in the dance, and your curiosity around these.
  • You have the right and responsibility to give an honest yes or no with your body, or your voice, or to move away from a situation that doesn’t suit you. You don’t have to apologise, compromise or explain.

Unsafety can look like:

  • Physical danger – for example being forcefully lifted, being forced to bear too much weight, or having your torso or limbs pinned in a way that restricts your mobility.
  • Sexual danger – for example receiving/giving overly sensual touch. Purposeful touch to genitals or breasts. Touch that seems to be asking for something outside of Contact Improvisation practice; getting/giving a ‘weird/suggestive’ vibe from/to someone in a dance.
  •  Emotional danger – for example receiving/giving touch that may feel manipulative or aggressive; receiving verbal threats or humiliation.
  • Social danger – for example being subject to behavior or language that is racist, gender biased, homophobic, ageist, able-list, or otherwise denigrating.

Some of the ways to respond to an unsafe/uncomfortable/near miss situation include:

  • Pausing or ending the dance.
  • Communicating verbally with your partner(s) about what you would like, what you would like more of.
  • Clarify your boundaries. Rather than accusing someone of doing something wrong. You might say; “I didn’t feel comfortable with that movement,” “I felt scared by that,” or “Less weight, please.” Or ‘I really liked it when we…can we do more of that please?” Try to avoid statements like, “You are being too sexual,” or “You make me feel bad.” “You are being dangerous.” This is because we can honestly speak from our own experience, but speaking from someone elses is better their responsibility and honesty rather than ours.
  • Find a trusted other and talk it through to language what you liked/didnt like and what you would like to ask for in the future and/or ask a facilitator/organiser for support.

Lets be aware that our actions ripple through the whole space.

  • If we are dancing with speed, weight, liveliness, and/or using lots of space, let’s also take responsibility for increasing our sensitivity, awareness, and adaptability to keep ourselves and others safe.
  • If we are stationary, moving very slowly, or lying down we may become an obstacle. When we can we try to move to the periphery of the room when witnessing, warming up, stretching, or engaging in body work.
  • Remember that our presence changes the atmosphere of the space, and others’ dances even when we are not dancing.
  • Active witnessing can support the entire jam by increasing awareness and focus.
  • Let’s avoid creating distraction, keep social chatter to a minimum, and keep phones off other than for childcare and/or emergencies.
  • Although we and a partner(s) may have consensus about our dance, others may be challenged by a dance and/or hold different interpretations. We invite a spirit of on-going curiosity around staying open to the whole space as well as dance partners.
  • If you are feeling lonely and sat on the edge feeling unable to join in or feeling de-skilled, remember that we have all felt that at one time or another. One way to join a jam is to start gently looking for/sensing for ways in to the jam, whether through eye contact or gesture.

Back to Contents

5. Developing Skills

  • We each have the possibility individually to develop CI skills to enable us to both give and receive more from CI. As a community we have an opportunity to develop these skills in each other.
  • Let’s be supportive and specific if giving feedback, this means, refrain from blaming or projecting. (Seeing something in someone else that we refuse to see in ourselves.)
  • We each have a responsibility to understand how our dance, energy, and sense of personal boundaries impacts our dance partners and the dance space around us.
  • Let’s practice hearing feedback without becoming defensive, and directing others feedback to being specific and positive. i.e’ “when you did..x.. I really enjoyed that because …y.”
  • Let’s practice listening to non-verbal cues and get verbal feedback if there is any confusion or ambiguity.
  • It may be that we have more to offer the community of CI than we realise, and it could be that there are dancers in the community who can offer a lot if we see the unique gifts each person brings.
  • Facilitating different teachers, having regular weekly classes, inviting international teachers and exploring different dance practices through the lens of CI, such as tango, swing, tumbling, acro-yoga, capoeira, and many others can support us to be a thriving community of practitioners.

Be familiar with skills that allow you to:

  • Stay on the ground, and become friends with the floor and walls of the space.
  • Fly on others in a safe and connected way
  • Redirect weight if it becomes heavy/uncomfortable
  • Redirect body parts, tone, softness, in contact if the area or quality of touch begins to feel uncomfortable.
  • Change the quality, tone, or speed of a dance

If you are uncertain how to develop and apply these skills, you could ask a core member for help, ask for facilitation through a class.

Check in with ourselves before, during and between dances:

  • Take time to warm-up before dancing, as needed on that particular day.
  • If you are feeling “off”, spaced out, aroused, angry, or not quite yourself, take a pause at the side of the room to stretch, watch, write, talk to someone, or have some quiet time.
  • You may offer to start or join a dance.
  • Dancing without a partner (soloing), with the space, with the ‘between’, with the walls and floor can be wonderful for developing our dance with ourselves.
  • Invite others (verbally or nonverbally) to join you in dancing.
  • Enter ongoing dances with a spirit of listening and tuning into what is already there.
  • If an ongoing dance is not open or ready for you to join, respect the situation and don’t take it personally, it is unlikely to be about you.
  • Choose to accept or refuse any dance.
  • Transform or leave a dance at any time for any reason or no reason.
  • If you are not comfortable ending or refusing dances without reason or apology, practice by frequently saying “no” to dances both verbally and through physicality until you gain more comfort in saying “no”. Being able to say no enables us to say a more powerful yes!
  • Be aware of the dances happening around you.
  • Notice the quality (speed, size, and space…) of your dance in relationship to the others nearby.
  • Keep yourself safe and avoid hurting others. Collisions happen, but with awareness of what is around us, injuries are less likely.

Listen to your partner

  • Take a gradual approach when dancing with unfamiliar partners, and especially people new to Contact Improvisation. Someone who is new to Contact Improvisation may not have acquired the language or skills to communicate their own physical and/or emotional boundaries.
  • If you have had a dance that may have tested your partner’s boundaries, it is a good to check in verbally. For example, ask a neutral question like; “How did that feel for you?”
  • Do not assume that what feels OK or safe for you will feel OK for another. For example, you may feel comfortable being lifted in a particular way, but your partner may not want you to lift them in that way.
  • Realise that particular qualities of touch, varying speeds, and different amounts of pressure/tone or speed resonate differently with different dancers.
  • Avoid manipulative or coercive maneuvers, such as the over-use of hands, that prevent your partner from moving and expressing themselves freely.
  • Cultivate a practice based on mutual freedom and clear communication.

While non-verbal feedback is inherent to the form of CI, spoken words can deepen our understanding of each other and create more satisfying and safe connections. You can request to give or receive verbal feedback whenever you feel called to, i.e. during a dance, immediately after a dance, or after jam/class. In a class you may often be invited to explore and de-brief following an exercise, without losing the flow of developing new bodymind skills.

Practice cultivating awareness of your self, your dance partners, the entire group and the whole space. Even as you focus on the dance you are in, stay aware and mindful of what else is going on in the space around you (Are there a lot of people in the room? Are people generally horizontal or vertical, moving fast or slow? Are there people on the floor near you?) “Telescope” your awareness in and out to take in the environment.

Witnessing is part of the form, a lot of learning occurs this way. Witnessing is a practice in being present to yourself and to those who you are watching, cultivating an open heart and a non-judgmental mind.
Please feel more than welcome to watch from the outskirts of the dance space. Everyone on the dance floor is “in” whether dancing or witnessing.

Back to Contents

6. Sexuality
Please read in conjunction with the section on psychological safety.

As sexual beings, the question is not whether sexuality is present, but how it shows up, to what degree it shows up, and how is it held/expressed in the dance. For some, a distinction between “sensuality” and “sexuality” is helpful, while for others the distinction is not clear. Different dancers have different tolerances and desires for sensuality in their dances. Expressing sexual energy on the dance floor is controversial and can for some be especially triggering; proceed with caution.

Generally we attempt to create an environment in which manipulation of others for self gain/pleasure is challenged and bodies moving instead become an opportunity to move into a shared ‘leading as following,’ Where both and all parties are following one another rather than trying to be leaders or followers a depth of freedom, connection and skill can be developed and discovered that can profoundly shift our capacity for living fully and passionately on the dance floor and in everyday life.

We invite dancers to show up responsibly to create ‘safer brave spaces’ with their full being. We aim to create a safe place for self-exploration and expression, using CI as our container. When in doubt, do your best to contribute to an atmosphere of safety, especially for those who identify as women, dancers who are new, and those who may have experienced relational trauma.

A good rule to follow about sexual/sensual energy in a dance: when in doubt, don’t escalate the energy. You can dance in your own energy without overtly expressing it with your partner. It is possible, even likely, that we can misread signals and allow sexual energy to bring an unwelcome agenda to your dance.

Unwanted sexual advances and sexual touching without explicit and on-going consent are NOT acceptable in our CI community. Let’s speak up, and create safe spaces! Anyone experiencing this is absolutely empowered to stop the dance, communicate their boundaries to a dance partner/s and share their experience with a Core Member/facilitator/organiser or trusted other in the dance space. The request when such relational rupture has occurred is then to follow our process for all of us to learn from such events, reduce the likelihood of them happening again and develop trust and mutual boundaries where possible.

Check your intentions. What are you here for?

  • The jam is a space for Contact Improvisation. Sexual exploration is not appropriate in this space. There are other spaces for this, and our community boundaries are not a reason to move into shame and denial of sexuality, but rather to fully inhabit this form and use other forms when these are more likely to meet your needs at a particular time
  • Contact Improvisation is not an invitation to romantic or erotic touch. Nor is it an invitation to a relationship off the dance floor.
  • If you become aroused sexually, notice it and let it pass and/or excuse yourself from the dance. Although excitement is possible and can be experienced with no shame, a Contact Improvisation jam or class is not an opportunity to explore sexual touch or arousal. You may find you are able to direct your sexual energy into your general aliveness, presence and creativity.
  • Make space for dances to change or end.
  • Respect someone’s wish to disengage or end a dance.
  • Do not pressure or pursue a person into dancing with you.
  • Recognize that a partner may attempt to end a dance nonverbally, or may have difficulty articulating that they wish to end a dance.
  • Make special accommodations for newer dancers, who may be unaware that they are tired, dehydrated, or overstimulated and could use a break.
  • If you are unsure, check in verbally. For example, ask; “How is this dance for you?” Or: “Would you like to take a break?” Or “How is the pace/energy of our dance for you?”

Back to Contents

7. Inclusiveness
Contact Improvisation strives to be inclusive, welcoming everyone regardless of age, skill level, physical ability, disability, racial and cultural background, sexual orientation or gender identity. We create the jam together and it’s enriched by everyone’s contribution. Let’s be aware of newcomers and others who may be unsure how to be in this space that can be radically different from other cultures, areas of life, work and family.

  • There is no better or worse dancer, but there are more or less connected, free and fun dances between dancers
  • Although dancers exhibit very different levels of capacity in terms of movement, co-ordination, ability to move between levels such as floor to flying, each of us have unique gifts to bring to the CI dance floor. Each of us brings more of these gifts as we embrace where we are in terms of our current physical, emotional and mental health and capacities.
  • The aim is to reach our individual and unique potential in a way and at a pace that is nourishing for us. That may be a very gradual process, and as long as we are having fun, feeling nourished and positively challenged, while being safe and caring towards others we don’t have to get better at anything.
  • Grazing (warming up to interaction with others and the environment through a series of short connections) can be a simple, enjoyable way to experience dances if you are feeling unsure. Grazing could last for a few seconds or a few minutes.

Back to Contents

8. Children

  • Children are welcome to the space and we support families gently introducing their children to Contact Improvisation.
  • CI can be a physically and emotionally risky environment & parents are responsible for their childs safety and need to watch over them. As with adults, older children are asked to respect that the jam space is for dancing.
  • Younger children may need art materials on the side of the room, and need to be closely accompanied if in the central dance space.
  • CI is not a DBS checked space.
  • Adults in the space are asked to check in with parents regarding any physical contact and are referred to the other guidelines around consent and behaviour.
  • Anyone under the age of 16 needs to be accompanied by a responsible adult.
  • Children are vulnerable and cannot generally give informed consent, this needs to be taken into consideration by all adults in the space when children are on the dance floor.
  • Dancers need to give extra consideration as to how their dance may be being interpreted by any children in the space. Childrens visual and sensory perception may not be as developed as an adults and therefore they may perceive fast/strong movement, and loud sounds as threatening/aggressive.

Back to Contents

9. Music

  • Music can be a wonderful gift to the jam and so can silence.
  • Playing music for improvisational movement is different than playing for a listening audience. Sometimes people feel like they want the added support of a musical score in the dance space and sometimes they feel like the music is creating the agenda of the dance instead of their own inner improvisational impulse.
  • We ask that musicians be mindful of the impact their music has upon the entire space and everyone’s dance within it.
  • Learn to “read the space”, and also allow for silent spaces.
  • When you make music you are basically introducing another dance partner into the space.
  • Music with a less driving presence and few or no words is more supportive of dancing.
  • A rule of thumb is to create equal times of silence and music.

Back to Contents

10. Sound and talking
Sound is a natural part of embodied movement. Sounds or words that are a part of the dance are welcome; and low-volume talking with a partner as a means of deepening into the dance or creating safety for yourself is welcome, for instance when cautioning your partner about an injury or giving/receiving feedback (if they have asked for it) within the dance.

  • At the same time, the aim is a focused environment. Let’s be mindful of how sound and language affect the jam.
  • The practice of contact improvisation and related movement practices includes contact with sound and listening/responding and dancing in connection to sound. Don’t be surprised if your sound becomes someone else’s dance and vice versa.
  • We ask ourselves to refrain from general social chatter in the dance space.
  • Chatter can pull us out of the direct experience of the dance. If you are moved to talk or sound in the space, you might ask yourself, “Is this part of my dance, or pulling me out of it? Am I aware of how my voice is contacting the other dancers in the room? What effect would I like my voice to have on this space?/On my dance/on other dancers?

Back to Contents

11. Working with these guidelines.

  • We recognise that there is no such thing as a perfectly safe space, but we will all strive toward building the most respectful and inclusive space possible.
  • If one of us behaves counter to these guidelines, we will use compassionate calling-in as a strategy to build awareness around the behavior.
  • Compassionate calling in means bringing caring and careful attention to what has happened and finding a mutual way forward in which the guidelines can be followed and enriched from what has occured. Someone from the core group, likely someone not directly involved, will aim to have a 1:1 conversation with the parties involved and where possible/agreed/appropriate then seek reparative conversation between the parties based on needs/values and requests.
  • If the core group do not feel skilled in the nature of the event/it is beyond the scope of the community they will signpost the injured party to other services. The organisers do not accept any liability or the financial burden for such services. This may include mediation, mental health support, NVC (Non Violent Communication) facilitators and in extreme cases statutory services.
  • If someone repeatedly behaves in ways that undermines the spirit and ideas of these guidelines/cannot accept support and/or clearly and knowingly refuses to follow these guidelines, and/or is putting others in substantial danger they will be asked to leave the jam/class as a last resort to keep themselves and others safe.
  • If you have questions about safety, touch, nonverbal communication, or anything else, please to speak to a facilitator.
  • This is a live document, please bring your ideas and suggestions, we are all here to create a safe and fun jam environment for everyone!

Back to Contents

Leave a Reply