Rachel Carter took her first belly dancing class while attending Washington State University in Pullman. She loved it so much she continued taking classes when she moved to Bellingham, and hasn’t stopped dancing since.  

“I attended all the free dance classes that I could possibly go to,” Carter says. “And I just never stopped going.”  

Carter has been dancing and performing for a decade now. Through her business, Rachel Belly Dances, she performs for parties, events, and small gatherings. She’ll occasionally throw belly dancing parties in people’s living rooms, as part of a girls-night-in or bachelorette party.  

The History & Culture Behind the Dance 

Three years ago, Carter began teaching the art of belly dancing. Today, she instructs belly dance courses at Whatcom Community College. The courses run eight to 10 weeks, giving her time to share about the dance’s culture and history.  

“What this dance does is it’s a great connector, and it can be a connector between people or cultures,” Carter says. “I try to bring [culture and history] to my classes and performances. I love sharing this dance.”  

Carter specializes in a kind of belly dancing called raqs sharqi, which translates to, “dance of the east.” Raqs sharqi originates in the Middle East, North Africa, Turkey, and Greece. Although Carter is not from these cultures, she sees herself as an ambassador for the artform, and uses it to share the joy of dance with others.  

“My mission is to learn and spread the joy and skill of raqs sharqi through performance and dance instruction,” Carter says. “I strive to educate myself, my students, my audience with the joy and respect that I have for this historical, cultural art form. 

Virtual Belly Dancing 

During Covid, Carter continues to teach classes online through Whatcom Community College and has performed at virtual events. Carter says she has taken advantage of learning from dancers all over the world who have switched to virtual classes and performances.  

“I’m learning from an Egyptian in Toronto right now, and one of my favorite dancers out of Brazil,” Carter says. “It’s amazing how much the community has connected online.”  

For those interested, Carter offers a free belly dancing class through Whatcom Community College before the start of each academic quarter. The class gives people a taste of belly dancing, to see if they like it enough to take the full course. Offering free classes feels right to Carter, since the class that sparked her own journey in the artform was also free. 

If you’d prefer to experience Carter’s dancing live, she’ll be performing at Firehouse Cafe in Fairhaven on June 11 at 6:30 p.m., accompanied by Portland musician Sean Daly. rachelbellydances.com