Health Magazine

Shake What Your Mama Gave You

By Melissa Boles @_mboles

Do you remember how you were when you were 15?

I was a mess, constantly running into life and desks, unable to handle how my body was changing and trying to navigate what was coming at me with very little success.  My sophomore year was one of my toughest – I lost friends, gained friends, and lost them again; bullied someone else; and was ultimately diagnosed with depression.  The one light in that year was my involvement in my high schools drama department.  I made good friends, found that I was good at something, and learned a lot (though I didn’t understand much of it until later).  As an added bonus, backstage in the drama department, between teaching me to sew and helping me manage a stage crew and props, the mother of a friend of mine taught me how to shimmy.

This woman, who had raised 6 children, was a firecracker.  She made us all laugh, let us call her Mama G., and swept me under her wing.  She was the costume mistress (her youngest daughter was starring in the show), and I like to think that my being younger than her daughter helped her feel better about her youngest’s impending departure for college.  I cried in her embrace, laughed with her, and, most of all, shook my chest back and forth when just the right music was blaring.

For a long time, I thought I had to be different.  I believed that what I had been born with – my personality, my intelligence, and especially my body, weren’t good enough.  They weren’t right.  I needed to change.  And though I didn’t realize it until years later, what Mama G. was teaching me by showing me how to shimmy was that I had everything I needed to be successful.  Even if we were just talking about something as simple as dancing with style.

When the play was over, and I turned 16, I asked Mama G. to write me a recommendation letter as I applied for jobs.  I saved a copy of it, and every so often will stumble upon it amongst other things I have saved.  Mama G. tells my future employer that I’m capable, professional, and mature.  When I was in high school it was the best thing anyone had said about me in a long time.  Even now, it warms my heart.

I’ve since lost touch with Mama G. and her daughter, but I remember them often.  Every time I shimmy my upper body, I think about Mama G. and the way she used to say, “Move those shoulders, girl – shake what your mama gave you!”

I wish I’d realized sooner what she was really telling me.  That all of her hugs and kind words and shimmy lessons were really telling me that I had every asset I needed to be exactly who I wanted to be.

All I had to do was shake them.

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