Whether one’s hitting the trails or hitting the treadmill, exercise is more often than not a solo activity — but it doesn’t have to be.

The Mountain Women Bellydancing Club offers an unorthodox opportunity for University of Wyoming students and Laramie residents to get in a work-out, while making friends and learning something new.

Bellydancing — an expressive Arabic dance originating in Egypt — put an emphasis on fluid movements and colorful dresses.

“When it’s done right, it’s a good community-building activity,” said Cassandra Rust, the club’s creative co-director. “The more you dance with us, we get to become friends, we get to become very, very close and we still keep in contact with students that have graduated.”

Rust said she danced “off and on” for about 20 years, but the club welcomes participants of all skill levels — even those who have never tried bellydancing in their life.

The club helps dedicated dancers hone their skills, but also devotes the first hour of its meetings to teaching newcomers the basics, Rust said.

“You don’t have to know anything about belly dance to come participate,” she said. “We assume that you don’t know anything, so we’ll teach you the techniques of belly dance and some of the basic movements and basic combos.”

Club President Alex Smith — now in her senior year at UW — discovered the club in the spring of her sophomore year.

“When I went, the girls were really welcoming and it was great,” she said. “The exercise was also a benefit, because I had not been exercising.”

It was not love at first sight, however.

“I was kind of nervous to try it out just because I had never done that before or that type of dance,” Smith said. “It feels really weird when you first start it. When I first went to the meeting, I was considering not going back, because I felt like I looked horrible. I felt like a flailing fish. But we always say, ‘If you feel that way, you’re probably doing it right.’”

Smith said in addition to the benefits of exercise, the club’s focus on body positivity — and the welcoming, inclusive atmosphere of belly dancing — hooked her.

“We always say, ‘Belly dance looks good on everyone,’” she said. “It looks different on everyone and it looks really good on everyone. The club has just given me so much more confidence in myself since I’ve been doing it.”

The Mountain Women hope to expand by introducing UW’s sororities and residence halls to the art of bellydancing, Rust said.

“It’s a fun stress relief activity,” she said. “If anyone is interested further in that, they can come to the classes weekly — or if they’re really interested, they can perform with us.”

The club hosts a big, annual showcase, usually featuring guests from outside the club. This year’s showcase starts 6 p.m. April 14 in the UW Education Auditorium, and features Elizabeth Ashner, the sponsor of a large annual belly dance festival in Colorado known as Elevation.

The showcase — larger this year than it’s ever been — is one not to miss, Rust said.

“We’re now in the fourth year of our showcase,” she said. “The first year, we were begging for anybody to come and participate with us, and this year, we have 13 different groups from all across the Front Range, from different areas in Wyoming and all the way out of Rapid City, South Dakota.”

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