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The Back Story: Howdy Dances and Rebel Roasts

Fall events gathered UNLV's first students for fun on the shores of Lake Mead and formal dances in the old gymnasium.

UNLV History  |  Aug 26, 2013  |  By Su Kim Chung

Students in a tug-of-war during the 1962 University Days. (UNLV Special Collections)

As we approach the beginning of the academic year, let’s take a look back at some of the fun campus welcome traditions that were part of UNLV’s first decade in its days as Nevada Southern. Long before Premier UNLV (5 p.m., Aug. 29) became a campus staple, a number of social events marked the beginning of the fall semester, and are documented in the pages of the Rebel Yell student newspaper and Epilogue, the campus yearbook.  

Howdy Dance

Even back in September 1960, the Rebel Yell referred to the “Howdy Dance” as one of the “oldest traditions at Nevada Southern” (as UNLV was then called) — an ironic statement for a school that wasn't even a decade old. Held first in the multipurpose room of Grant Hall and later in the gymnasium, it was described as the first social dance of the year and gave both new and old students a chance to get acquainted. An informal affair, with the dress code calling for “street dresses for the women and slacks for the men.”

Rebel Roast

At a time when classes didn’t begin until well into September, this fun-in-the- sun event took place on the beaches of Lake Mead and was described as the “traditional fall pre-class beach extravaganza” sponsored by the student government association.  In addition to a picnic and barbeque, students often played softball and water polo, and danced into the night.

University Day

Although University Day typically didn’t occur until the cooler weather of early November set in, it was one of the most revered events of the fall semester. It was described in the 1962 Epilogue as “a weekend of revelry and excitement.”

A bonfire competition between the freshmen students and upperclassmen, three-leg races, tug-of-war, and a pie-eating contest were all part of the fun.  By the end of the weekend, everyone was ready for a dress-up event and the University Day dance fit the bill, with one lucky lady crowned that year’s University Day Queen.

A Nov. 3, 1966, issue of the Rebel Yell declared that “University Days, after four years, is unifying classes at Nevada Southern more than any other event throughout the year. It is making students feel a part of Nevada Southern.”

Whether old or new, these welcome traditions define what it means to be a Rebel and show that school spirit has always been a way of life at UNLV!

More: Copies of UNLV yearbooks and The Rebel Yell can be found in the university archives within Special Collections at Lied Library.