Saturday, March 3, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Rebel Girls at national finals
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- Oscar Bellfield has been a steady hand during his four years at UNLV
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- 2011-12 UNLV Men's Basketball Schedule
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This is typically a time where fans at most schools make a dash for nachos at the concession stand or take out their cellphones to check scores. It’s not that way at UNLV.
The majority of fans keep their eyes stationed on the center of the court. The Rebel Girls have built a profile that few other dance teams in the country can match.
“I think the Rebel Girls are something everyone has always followed,” said Marca DeCastroverde, the team’s head coach. “Especially dating back to the Tark days, people were interested. But I feel we’ve reached a new level of followers in the last few years.”
A vision DeCastroverde had for the Rebel Girls led to their increased exposure. After graduating from UNLV in 2002, DeCastroverde stuck around as a Rebel Girls assistant for two years before taking over as head coach.
One of her foremost priorities was turning the UNLV dance team into one that competed nationally. When the team first traveled to Orlando for the national finals of the Collegiate Universal Dance Association, DeCastroverde said many opposing teams were unaware of what “UNLV” stood for.
Now they know all too well. The Rebel Girls placed fifth in the nation in the hip-hop division of the national finals this year. It’s the fourth time in five years they’ve ranked in the top five.
“Our priority is, of course, supporting our school,” said Marie Chew, a sophomore dancer from Farmington, N.M. “That’s why the program was created, but the national competition drives us to work harder.”
The dedication necessary to join the Rebel Girls isn’t for everyone. It takes some trial and error, according to DeCastroverde, and many freshmen who make the team don’t last all four years.
It’s part of the reason the Rebel Girls will have no one celebrating Senior Night when the UNLV basketball team takes on Wyoming at the Thomas & Mack Center tonight.
Chew said she had friends on other college dance squads who couldn’t believe the time demand that comes with being a Rebel Girl. They balance practice time with required study hall hours, sessions with a personal trainer and, of course, a full class schedule.
The team practices three to five times a week for three-hour increments at 5:30 a.m. In the month leading up to the national finals, they go through two-a-day practices.
“My first competition season, I was like, ‘What am I doing?’” junior captain Erin Bush said. “I had no idea what I was working toward. That’s how most girls come into it. They don’t really understand how big of a commitment it is.”
Bush, a Coronado High graduate, never anticipated joining a college dance team until she met DeCastroverde during her senior year of high school. Like an 18-year-old baseball pitcher with a rocket arm, Bush planned on transitioning straight to professional dancing.
She reluctantly decided to go to UNLV, a choice she called “the best decision I’ve ever made.”
“It’s so fulfilling,” Bush said. “I’ve pushed myself to limits I never thought I would be able to do. Every season is hard, but it makes you feel like a better person.”
Attracting talent like Bush was an important part of building the program, according to DeCastroverde. Many of the Rebel Girls aspire to careers as professional dancers.
Brandi Charles, a sophomore who graduated from Palo Verde High School, hopes to someday make an NBA dance team.
“Ever since I was a little girl, it’s all I’ve wanted to do,” Charles said. “I just wanted to dance. I will be dancing until my legs fall off.”
Even those who aren’t looking to pursue dance after college are confident in the benefits of the Rebel Girls.
Chew wants to work for Cirque du Soleil — not as an acrobat, but as a stage designer.
“I think the structure the program brings, employers are aware of it,” Chew said. “They realize how much we do in the community and that we’re dependable.”
For now, she’ll enjoy the experience at UNLV. Not many college students have the luxury of being a part of a team ranked as one of the best in the nation.
But the Rebel Girls are most thankful for the recognition they’ve received because of it.
“We aren’t celebrities individually, but this team as a whole is a local celebrity,” Bush said. “We have signs made for us and a lot of acknowledgement. It’s really cool to get acknowledged because a lot of dance teams aren’t. We’ve built up this reputation, and we’re willing to stand up and maintain it.”