Cassandra Bushman and members of the Mountain Women Bellydancing Club

Creative Co-Director Cassandra Bushman, center, and other members of the Mountain Women Bellydancing Club dance to “Salma Ya Salama” on Feb. 22 at the College of Agriculture.

Laramie will host some of the best belly dancers in the Mountain West region Saturday during an annual showcase of various styles, genres and talents.

The event is hosted by a local group known as the Mountain Women Bellydancing Club, which has been preparing for the showcase for nearly a year. The group’s creative co-director, Cassandra Rust, said the event, now in its fourth year, is the largest one yet.

“If you’ve never seen belly dance, never experienced belly dance, this is a really great environment to experience it in, especially because of the quality of the talent that’s coming up,” Rust said.

“You’re not going to see just whatever can be scrapped together. This is a really, really talented showcase line-up.”

Rust added the show has grown significantly since its first year, during which the Mountain Women struggled to stage even a 45-minute show.

“Every year, it seems like our show gets bigger,” she said. “The first year we decided to do it, we were literally begging people (to come).”

By contrast, the Mountain Women had to cut one of their planned dances from the 2018 showcase and even had to turn some belly dancing troupes away.

“We have 13 different groups coming from as far away as South Dakota and all down south through the Front Range, all the way to Denver,” Rust said. “It’s a big show.”

The abundance of troupes will give audiences a chance to experience various styles of the ancient artform.

“There are several different kinds of belly dance,” Rust said. “You have American tribal style, which is a very regimented set of moves. And then you have Turkish and Egyptian. (They) are kind of the big main three.”

But troupes will often delve into “fusion” variations of these styles, drawing in elements from Indian, Spanish and other traditions — and dance to every kind of music, from classical numbers to Beastie Boys’ singles, Rust said.

“We’re all over the place, but we have groups that come who only do Egyptian or only do tribal — so we’re kind of equal opportunity so everyone can come,” she said. “And then as far as the music, we have everything from pop music to classic Egyptian to world music.”

Rust said she encouraged people to set aside what they think they know about belly dancing and experience it in person.

“I think a lot of people have misconceptions about what belly dance is. I think it frequently … has a negative connotation, as far as being just sexy dancing,” she said. “But that’s not it at all. It’s actually a dance form that’s taken from ancient tribal traditional from all over Africa and the Middle East.”

Even the costuming is less revealing than what many people think of when they think of belly dancing, Rust said, given that modern belly dancing often features more conservative costumes than the craft did in the 80s.

“It’s an amazing thing for Laramie to have,” she said. “It’s definitely a good cultural experience, something a little bit outside of the norm.”

The showcase starts at 6 p.m. Saturday in the University of Wyoming Education Auditorium, although doors open at 5:30 p.m. There is a suggested $5 donation. Go to the Mountain Women Bellydancing Facebook page for more information.

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