Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools
You are here: Home / Contact Improvisation / Respecting Boundaries

Respecting Boundaries

by Ken Manheimer last modified Jul 08, 2017 07:45 AM
Filed under: , ,
Contact Improvisation and open ensemble movement improv are based around mutual cooperation rather than control. To work well they depend on respect for one another's boundaries, which we describe here. Please read, to help foster a healthy and safe jam!

Exploring Cooperation

Contact Improvisation is a terrific opportunity to explore and deepen your ability to coordinate with others, and with yourself, in an exceptionally open structure. In the spirit of the form, contact improv jams are, as a whole, also improvisational, with little official regulation.  This generally works well, because the essence of the practice is pursuit of cooperation rather than control.

Communication is never perfect, however, and sometimes people miss recognizing or honoring the boundaries of others.  In improvisation, you can't regulate communication without sacrificing key opportunities for individual discovery and growth. However, clear guidelines can help everyone understand what to do to keep such mistakes from spoiling a good situation.

Clear Communication and Connection

As with any shared freedom, CI cooperation depends on each of us being able to recognize and respect our own limits and the limits of others - personal boundaries.

People cannot abide by boundaries that they do not see.

While exploring and expanding your frontiers, you must strive to be clear with yourself and with others when you reach your limits - physical, emotional, inter-personal, whatever.

Safety as well as success depends on everyone recognizing and clearly expressing their limits. This is especially so in a practice that frequently involves reevaluating and refining those limits.

Cooperation depends on respecting one another's boundaries.

In order for everyone to seek what suits them - pace, depth of connection, daring maneuvers, etc - everyone must be attentive for and respect the limits expressed by their partners, verbally and non-verbally. Safety as well as good connection depends on that sensitivity.

People can offer material for others to explore, but they must not try to control the other's choice to accept or refuse those offers. Each of us is in the best position to steer our own explorations.

Genuine opportunities to connect include the option to not connect.
In order for everyone to have the opportunity to choose which dances they accept, everyone must be ready to accept being refused a dance. Even followup to discuss a refusal must be an option which may also be refused.

As with any shared freedom, the freedom to enjoy CI depends on each of us being able to recognize and respect our own boundaries and the boundaries of others, even while - particularly while - we're reevaluating and adjusting them.

Sometime Clarity Doesn't Come Easily

Sometimes you find effortless understanding with someone, and sometimes it doesn't come as easily. If a gesture does not successfully convey your message, you may have to explicitly speak it. Sometimes communication legitimately needs to be repeated. People may forget what you said, or understand incompletely, so you may have to repeat yourself, at the risk of seeming harsh. Sometimes, you will be unable to get your message across and will have to remove yourself from a dance (or similarly, conversation, etc.)

What To Do When One-on-one Communication and Exiting Doesn't Work

Occasionally even the best communication is not enough. If you feel that you have been clear about your limits but they are not being honored, and you are being pursued even after removing yourself and asking to be left alone, you can ask for mediation. Request consultation from jam organizers, workshop teachers, or anyone you trust, asking them to help convey to the other person to leave you alone. Everyone should do their best to communicate clearly and reasonably, and avoid unnecessary condemnation.

Though they should know better, it's possible that a teacher or facilitator is the one refusing to disengage. If there is no one that you trust available for consultation and mediation, it's your responsibility to leave an unsafe situation. Once you have left, you can find another facilitator to help you address the issue.


Contact improv, at its core, is about collaboration, not control. To work well it fundamentally depends on participants respecting each other's boundaries. Much like a lot of life.

For more:


peace making --anonymous, Fri, 30 Oct 2009 22:29:56 -0500

I would suggest that 'jam organizers, workshop teachers, or anyone you trust' reasonably attempt to mediate clear and safe communication between the concerned parties, that they may come to understanding, and foster the equanimity of the jam.

Re: peace making --Ken Manheimer, Sun, 31 Oct 2009

While often desirable, it is not always practical for "coming to understanding" to be a goal here, and in some cases, it's not appropriate or constructive. Sometimes the person feeling imposed upon has already been pressed beyond their limits, because the other person is seeking to process about the incident beyond what is welcome. The person feeling imposed upon often deserves the option to just disengage.

In some moments, the best that can happen is separate coexistence.

"Genuine opportunities to connect include the option to not connect."

-- Ken (

Document Actions