The routines have gotten tighter, the movements crisper, the tricks more daring and the attitude edgier, with baggy pants and fake tattoo sleeves replacing skirts and pom-poms. This reshaping of what the UNLV Rebel Girls once were—a more traditional dance team with Vegas flair—has transpired over nearly a decade, and it recently culminated with the squad winning the hip-hop dance national championship.
Marca Decastroverde, a Rebel Girl from 1998-2002, is now in her ninth season as the team’s coach. She began to restructure the program as soon as she took over, and six years ago she took the team to the competitive level. By 2012, the Rebel Girls had taken fifth place in the national championships, setting the stage for this year’s triumph. And the success hasn’t been limited to hip-hop: The Rebel Girls also took third in this year’s pom competition, which contains more traditional and technical elements.
Decastroverde allows her dancers to choreograph their routines, although she has the final say, including deciding which songs are appropriate. She varies their routines for UNLV games, incorporating classic rock and country into the mix at times. But as a good coach does, Decastroverde plays to the Rebel Girls’ strengths.
“They’re 18 to 21 years old, and they like Top 40 music. I think it’s important that they’re happy when they’re out there and like what they’re dancing to,” she says. “I just think people notice the hip-hop because that’s what they’re good at. We put a lot of acrobatics in it, a lot of tricks. It’s really hard, the things they’re doing. They make it look easy, but it’s not.”