CASPER, Wyo. — A foot-tapping bass beat can be heard outside a cinder block building at the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds. Inside, couples sidestep around a darkened dance floor as the sounds of accordion, saxophone, keyboard, guitar and drums form the music of Paralelo Norte.
"Most of the people, who right now is working or living here in Wyoming, came from the North of Mexico," Enrique Jimenez said. "So you know everybody likes this music."
Jimenez and his brothers, Antonio and Raymundo, have hosted monthly Mexican dances at the fairgrounds for the past two years. They focus on norteno music, a style rooted in northern Mexico that is characterized by the accordion.
The brothers said they started the dances to provide entertainment Casper lacked for the Hispanic community -- a community that has continued to grow over the years.
"Right now, see all the jobs that are here, especially in Casper, they bring more people from other states," Enrique Jimenez said.
Antonio Jimenez said he's met people from as far as Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah at the Casper dances. Average attendance ranges from about 120 to 250 people.
In 2000, 5.4 percent of Casper's population identified as Hispanic, according to U.S. Census data. Close to 63 percent of the Hispanic population was of Mexican origin. In 2010, the Hispanic population increased to 7.4 percent, with about 75 percent of Mexican origin.
Across town, another live music fiesta was happening the night of Nov. 17. Tacos Mexico owner Alex Rosales hosts his own Mexican dances inside an inconspicuous store front in the South Beverly Plaza. Rosales bought the property formerly known as The Venue and converted it into Crossroads 307.
"We have a good time here," said bartender Liz Tamez during a smoke break. "We come. We dance. We drink."
Tamez grew up in Chihuahua, Mexico, and, for the past five years, has lived in Casper. She has attended dances at the fairgrounds in the past and began bartending at Crossroads 307 in August. Tamez said the dances are a way for the Hispanic population to let loose and have a good time.
Indoors, Anexo al Norte entertained a slightly younger and larger dance crowd. The Denver-based group transitioned from duranguense to cumbia music as they energetically danced along a raised stage.
"When you have a really good live band, people are going to come, especially when they're an established, well-known band," Rosales said.
About the same time he started his business in Casper 12 years ago, Rosales said he began deejaying Mexican parties by request. He switched to live bands and sought "better and better artists" as business improved.
In October, Rosales' dance showcased Diana Reyes, a duranguense solo artist whose songs have been featured on top regional Mexican charts. Rosales said his dances generally draw close to 300 people but the Reyes show attracted nearly 500.
"As it becomes a little bit more of a demand for the local people, then it's obvious that it needs to be a little bit better organized and a little better production-wise," he said.
The success of shows centered on duranguense or banda music have reassured Rosales that the Casper audience is open to a variety of styles. He said musical preferences have diversified as more people move to Casper from various regions of Mexico as well.
Rosales himself is from central Mexico, having lived in Guanajuto state until the fifth grade, when his family moved to the United States.
"I think where there's a good opportunity to get ahead in life and to have a good quality of life, that's what's attractive," he said.
Hector Martinez, known as DJ Latino, played in between the band's breaks at Crossroads 307. He too said there's been a noticeable increase in the Hispanic population since he moved to Casper six years ago.
Martinez, who was raised in Guadalajara, Mexico, said he began deejaying three years ago to provide Latin music for his daughters' birthdays and special events. But as more Hispanic people have moved to the area for work, he said opportunities for the community to gather at events such as the Mexican dance have increased.
Rosales, who lived in Southern California prior to moving to Casper, said the local Hispanic community isn't as strong as California's but could grow. He hopes to foster that growth and introduce younger generations to Hispanic culture by adding traditional Mexican dances to next year's lineup, such as the Jarabe Tapatío, or Mexican hat dance.
"There's some beautiful, beautiful dances that our culture has," he said. "But then again, that's enjoyed through more of like the community scenario than the private scenario."
With the success of his recent Mexican dances, which have attracted people from Greeley, Colo., Lovell and Worland, Rosales said he is hopeful the demand is there.
"As these grow, I think it's a really good thing for Casper," he said, "because, obviously, people from other places need a place to stay, and it creates a lot more business for everyone in general."
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com