Yillah Natalie grew up studying ballet. But when her family couldn’t afford classes anymore, she had to quit. Puberty compounded her identity crisis. “I went from being a stick pole with a flat chest and perfect ballet body to a D-cup overnight,” she remembers. “I slowly learned not to like the way I looked or feel comfortable with myself.”
It was 1991, and like pretty much every American high school kid, Yillah was listening to U2 — “Achtung Baby” had just come out. The video for the song “Mysterious Ways” was filmed in Morocco, and featured a belly dancer. Yillah was mesmerized—both with the way she moved and the power she seemed to possess. When Bono sings “she moves in mysterious ways” that bring a man to his knees (“On your knees, boy!”), he’s talking about the dancer. “That’s when I decided, I want to have that kind of power,” Yillah remembers. So she started learning to belly dance, first by copying the moves she saw in the U2 video.
More than 25 years later, Yillah is a professional belly dancer—she performs, choreographs, and teaches. Her students are adults, often with high-powered careers, who struggle with confidence. But belly dancing tackles that. “When you walk into the room with this amazing bang of music, you feel in control and you feel beautiful,” Yillah says. “It’s really not about [men] desiring you,” she insists. “The aim is to make people happy. And so I’ve seen it turn women’s lives around.”
Is there a song, book, movie, or other work of art that changed your life? Tell us in a comment below.
Courtesy of Yillah Natalie
(Originally aired October 31, 2014)