Your Tribal Dance

6 years ago

People form tribes. In NYC, especially. My acting coach, Tom Todoroff, used that word a lot and encouraged us to hang with the people who share the same passion for acting. I remember finding the language a little strange, initially. Groups, people with shared interests, teams, cliques, even, but tribes? My friend recently expressed how grateful she is for the Sati tribe (people who take and teach the fitness practice intenSati) and I started thinking again about that word and the importance of community.

When I was a freshman at Cornell, I rushed a sorority called Alpha Epsilon Phi. I was on the Women's Soccer team at the time and there were a few girls from the team in that house, plus more than a few members of the Original Tribe so it felt like if I was going to be in one, this would be the right fit. I now credit joining AEPhi as one of the worst decisions I made in my college years. It wasn't just the hierarchical thinking and self/group branding. It was more than a socializing arrangement based on meeting somewhat intimidating and mostly immature, arrogant guys in large, imposing mansions-turned-frat houses with enough beer on tap to fill the Finger Lakes. And yes, a sorority initiation that involved putting the pledge class, myself included, on all fours with hands tied (or positioned, can't exactly remember) behind our backs while two twin sisters who were so skinny their combined weight probably equalled mine, made ice cream sundaes on the floor in front of us and shouted "EAT! EAT IT! EAT ITTTTT!!!!" didn't exactly help.

No, the real reason joining AEPhi was a decision I can look back on as the road ill-advisedly traveled was because while living and hanging with a group of girls creating allegiance and community that was not based on anything real, I lost a sense of myself as an individual. I don't do well with compulsory bonding. Or pressures to put on a good face or a happy one.

I also had little to no skills to deal with my inferiority complex, one which was triggered to such a degree at that time by exposure to fellow sorority sisters who seemed so talented, smart, beautiful and rich, it fueled an eating disorder. Now, to be fair and balanced, I have some positive memories and to this day stay in touch with one of my bff's and favorite people on the planet, Laura. (Hi, sweetie.) Yet, for the most part, I was such a mess at a time that if there were any benefits to be found in the Cornell University Greek system, said benefits escaped moi.

Today, Maureen Dowd's NYT editorial is about the women she ran into at the Manolo Blahnik sample sale. These female shoppers demonstrate something of an anti-tribe mentality, I'd say, since many have a My Stilettos, My Self mentality first and foremost. Now I love fashion and if I was swimming in money instead of making a media exec assistant's salary, my clothes would probably reflect my interest a bit more. Yet, as Leon Talley as my witness, I do not subscribe to a "Don't you dare get in the way of me and those 4 inch heels!" a-tti-tude.

That's the difference between a tribe and a group of people who have the same interests. Tribe members, ideally, look out for each other. Competition can be healthy but you don't swipe a sister's shoes.

Even if you find a tribe you love, it can be challenging to deal with jealousy. If you're human and you feel it, it become a real headache since in addition to feeling the jealousy, when you are part of a system you may feel guilt and/or frustration for even having the emotion in the first place. As if it demonstrates a lack of allegiance. "I shouldn't feel this way" adds a layer of judgment and makes it harder to manage. If you're not careful, you may turn it inward on yourself.

It's true, right!? I can relate. It happens. Because we're human.

The other challenge of group dynamics is sometimes you can feel beholden to people's expectations of what your role is or should be with everybody. The tendency towards group think -- when people are all subscribing to the same or similar ideas without challenge, question or debate -- can be alluring. It takes less effort to agree and people pleasing sometimes really has its "benefits" and makes you think you're getting what you want. For me, anything I've ever gotten by people pleasing has not felt worth it.

The bottom line is that the value of having friends, fellows, community -- of finding and traveling in a tribe or two -- outweighs the cost of dealing with the kinds of emotions one feels or pressures that come up almost inherently in group dynamics. Self sufficiency is a way of the past and the world is moving into shared resources and support. Online communities keep sprouting up like sunflowers in a Tuscan countryside. When you find people you really connect to, people you love and trust, when you make friendships that transcend and outlast the tests of time and experience, it makes you feel grateful to be alive.

New York City is a large urban landscape with cold cement and bricks. The sunshine lights up the skyscrapers from the outside but it's up to us, the people, to light them from within. It can feel exceptionally lonely here, sometimes, and the NYC cliche of bumping into hundreds of people all day on the streets while never connecting resonates for most at one point or another. I can certainly relate and am doing what I can not just for community but for the kind of intimacy that is real, where there is honesty, love, fun, laughter and non competitive shopping for high heels.

It helps to get together with people who sing and dance the same song or at the very least, sing and dance!

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