Rachel Smith might be a southern girl from Tennessee, but that has not hindered her belly dancing career. Clients are always surprised to learn where she is from, says the freshman at UM. We talked to Rachel, an international relations major, about her unorthodox background in the world of belly dancing.
How did you get interested in belly dancing?
My friends and I decided to take a local belly dance class in Tennessee just for fun. All my friends got frustrated because it was too difficult, but I fell in love with it and have been doing it ever since.
For how long have you been studying belly dancing?
I’ve been dancing professionally for about four years now, but have been studying for almost nine years. I practice with my professional dance company, Virginia’s Wa Nour Al Ayun (light of my eyes), at least twice a week and up to five or six if we have a major show. I also study with major artists such as Yousry Sharif, Samara, Tito, Mohamed Shahin, Amir Thaleb, Alexia, Virginia, and others.
Are there different styles of belly dancing? If so, is there a style that you study more in particular?
There are many different styles! Almost every country in the Middle East has its own take on Raqs Sharqi (oriental dance). While I focus on traditional Egyptain belly dance, I also perform the Turkish style if I’m performing for a Turkish audience. I also love baladi, which is the country dance that you see all Arabs doing at parties; shaabi, which is the flirty street dance; khaliji, with the crazy hair-swinging; saidi, with the canes and other prop; and ghawazee which is the gypsy style of the dance which sometimes uses tambourines or fans.
Where do you get your costumes?
I get most of my costumes custom-made in Egypt. Bellydancers only keep a costume for a certain number of shows before trading them out for a new one so our audience (or we!) doesn’t get bored. We all trade costumes and buy from each other.
What has been your biggest accomplishment as a dancer?
I think my biggest accomplishment would be that I am such a seasoned dancer at such a young age. My first dance company in Tennessee, The Alexandria Dancers, put me in the group a few years after I started as the youngest performer they’d ever had. Here in Miami, I am the youngest in this company as well.
Are there any groups or organizations for belly dancing that you are involved with in Miami?
I’m in the professional performing company Virginia’s Wa Nour Al Ayun. I’ve also taught here at UMiami for a couple sororities, which was a lot of fun.
What are your ambitions for the future?
My future is going to be one busy place. I plan to continue dancing and travel teaching and performing all over the world. I want to change the modern stereotype people have of bellydancers, that we are just classy strippers. That is so far from the truth! If you ever want to get under a bellydancer’s skin, that comparison is definitely the way to go.
What events do you have coming up?
Well, I perform from 2-6 times per week. I perform in restaurants every Friday and Saturday as well as private events such as weddings, birthday parties, bar/bat mitzvahs, showers, bachelorette parties, and basically anything else a client comes up with as long as it’s not one-on-one or for an all-male audience. That’s a big no-no in the bellydance world. I have a couple big theater shows that I’m starring in coming up in the next few months as well.
How can people keep updated on what you are involved in or contact you?
They can check me out on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rachelnicole079 or go onto my website, www.raebellydance.com, and look at my event calendar to see when and where I’m performing.