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Tap dancing, table hopping and other tales of relationship building

By Trina Adler, program leader in health and nutrition

Last week I tap danced with hundreds of people from across the country.

I also modeled play dough with them, blew bubbles to show them I liked what they were saying, competed with them on their knowledge of Minnesota trivia, and exchanged amazing ideas with them as I hopped from table to table during a “Disruption Dinner.”

Silvia Alvarez de Devila, U of M Extension educator in family resiliency, blows some bubbles to show support for what she’s hearing at the National Health Outreach Conference.

This all took place at the National Health Outreach Conference in Bloomington, which was hosted by the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Family Development. A main theme of the conference was relationship-building. Here at the Center for Family Development (FD) we tend to pound hard on that theme — encouraging staff to develop strong partnerships with organizations and community members to co-create positive learning experiences, environments, and systems to improve family and community wellness.

That’s why it was a pleasure to watch the theme of relationship building play out during the conference in the form of sharing key messages and modeling creative strategies.


Key messages that were shared during the conference included:
  • Curiosity, inquiry, and wrangling with the questions are essential to relationship- and trust-building. It’s not about who can bring the “most correct” perspective or the best answers. It’s about joining together to puzzle through the questions, and backing off your sense of righteousness.
  • Shared work is more important than shared vision. Sometimes instead of exploring “what is our common ground?” it is more important to consider “what are we willing to do?” Acting together can serve to forge relationships far more rapidly than trying to find a common vision when one really may not exist.
  • Love. Humility. Respect. However you want to phrase it, without some kind of baseline acceptance of your partners and co-creators, collaboration will not be successful. 


Some creative strategies for connection that were modeled at the conference included:
  • Learning to dance together (literally). This drew people out of their comfort zones in a positive way. We used a Kansas State University fact sheet highlighting dance as a learning tool. 
  • Sharing memories and experiences about food, animals, smells and sounds — all the bricks and mortar of human experience. This created connections between participants both during and outside learning sessions.
  • Receiving a pre-conference welcome. All out-of-state participants received a “welcome” text from someone from University of Minnesota Extension the day before the conference. I received loads of feedback that this simple, welcoming kindness resulted in a feeling of belonging by conference participants and some new connections for Extension staff from across the nation.


As we think about our work and the importance of relationships, I encourage you to consider how you can tap dance with your partners to create environments where families and communities can thrive and be healthy!

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