If you’ve scrolled through social media in the last two weeks, you’ve likely come across a dance routine from UNLV that won the Rebels a national title.
Carson High’s Taryn Encinas was a main feature in the routine that now has millions of views across platforms such as Instagram and Tik-Tok.
When Encinas was making her college decision, UNLV quickly came to the forefront.
“It’s the entire reason I chose UNLV. The dance program here is one of the best in the country,” said Encinas. “It’s been so crazy to see the feedback from the rest of the world. To be recognized by ESPN is really significant in the dance world.”
Now Encinas is a two-time national champion after the UNLV Rebel and Company dance team doubled-up on titles Jan. 14-15, winning the D1A Game Day and Hip-Hop categories in Orlando, Florida at the 2023 UCA and UDA College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championships.
Finding new in the old
At Carson High, Encinas took to the track and field program to find a new athletic outlet.
“I actually quit dance my sophomore year,” said Encinas. “After COVID hit, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and I just felt that I wasn’t really done in the dance world.”
Her time running track allowed her to stay in shape and continue using fast-twitch muscles, but also shared similarities with her time dancing where individual performances contribute to a bigger team goal.
The dance team runs fitness testing, too, which Encinas has been chosen as the team’s fitness manager.
That fitness testing includes the mile and the 400-meter dash, which Encinas ran while at Carson High.
As a junior in 2019, Encinas qualified for state in the 4x100 and 4x200 meter dashes where the Senators finished fourth and fifth.
Encinas and the Rebel Dance team compete in the D1A category, which is the top category based on school size.
There isn’t a long qualification process in order to make it to the national championships, stressing the importance of having a flawless routine.
“You only get one shot to show what you’ve been working on,” said Encinas. “Every day, you’re there from sunrise to sundown trying to perfect the piece as best as you can. … It’s enormous pressure for sure.”
(UNLV junior Taryn Encinas, holding the ‘L,’ jumps during the Rebel girls and company’s game day routine at the national championships in Orlando, Florida on Jan. 14 and 15. / Courtesy UNLV Athletics)
Encinas, who is a junior at UNLV, said the team works with choreographers – such as Andrew Elam from The Lab in Los Angeles – to help design the routine.
The coaching staff then fine-tunes the technique to make sure the entire piece looks as seamless as possible.
“We’ve been working on these pieces since October,” said Encinas.
In the hip-hop category, the Rebel girls and company scored a 99.1, which is the highest recorded score in the program’s history.
Encinas was on the floor for both hip-hop and game day routines, where she had two unique roles.
As a more experienced dancer in the program, Encinas is in the front row for the game day set.
For hip-hop, Encinas found herself in the lifts.
“I was lifted in the beginning and then I had some pretty good up front spots throughout the dance. Everyone is equally important, even if you’re in the back corner, that’s just as important as being front and center,” Encinas said.
The grind of getting the routine dialed in over months and months of practice is the toughest part of trying to compete for a national title.
Encinas said it can be easy to get lost in the day-to-day if dancers aren’t focused on the bigger picture.
“It’s a tedious, meticulous process. If you lose sight of the overall vision, it’s easy to feel fatigued,” said Encinas. “We had a really strong group this year. The fight was definitely there the entire time.
“It genuinely means everything. … Nothing amounts to putting in all the work over the entire season, seeing the progress in the routine itself ... knowing the sacrifice it took from everyone, is easily the most rewarding part of it.”
The national titles marked the fifth in each category for the UNLV Rebel and Company program.
The double title is uncommon as the game day and hip-hop categories require different styles and forms.
“It’s not always considered a sport, it’s definitely an art, but there’s a lot of athletic ability that goes into it,” said Encinas. “To have that recognition, it means a lot to us and the dance world.”
(The UNLV dance team poses for a photo with the national championship trophy and medals around their necks after winning two national titles in game day and hip-hop performances in the D1A division in Orlando, Florida. / Courtesy UNLV Athletics)