Relentless and stern, one booming voice surges over the herd of skaters racing around the track. The comments threaten tough competition -- or pain -- in a tone callous enough to make some whimper.
She may be a petite 5 feet 5 inches, but Stardust Dunes is one red-headed chick who shouldn't be messed with. The vocal leader of the Sin City Rollergirls league's traveling team is not afraid to deliver. Even more than she enjoys yelling, she likes hitting.
Southwest resident Melanie Long -- known in the derby world as Stardust Dunes -- is gearing up for her first full season as a starter on the league's traveling team. The second-generation Las Vegas native joined the league in 2009 and picked her derby name to represent the town's older days. She moved up to the All-Stars team last year, and although she opened the season on the bench, she quickly earned a spot in the starting line up.
"I like practicing a lot," the 35-year-old said, admitting she was never athletic and skated as a kid only at birthday parties before joining the team. "Skating is my release. It's my Zen moment. I don't think about anything else when I'm skating."
The league is opening tryouts for newbies Sept. 21, and no derby experience is required. Matches begin in October at the Riviera, 2901 Las Vegas Blvd. South. The All-Stars begin national competitions in February.
Dunes is also bringing a new addition to the league's three-team fold this year. She plans to coach Las Vegas' debut junior derby league, which her 13-year-old daughter hopes to join.
"I don't know how that's going to go," Dunes said, letting out a nervous laugh. "We all know 13-year-old girls love their moms."
Dunes calls the league family-oriented, in which the skaters are close friends who volunteer to keep the organization running. Just as most players' families help out, her husband runs the penalty box. Ryan Garlow, also known as Coach Pain Newton, is married to the all-star team captain.
"It pretty much consumes your life," Dunes said. "We all work really hard to be here."
The work is paying off. The all-star team moved up about a third in rank among the rest of the Women's Flat Track Derby Associations' 100-plus teams, Newton said. After not winning a WFTDA match since 2007, the All-Stars won four of their sanctioned bouts last season.
"It was a big improvement for them," Newton said. "It was a great accomplishment."
He said the sport takes real athleticism and is one of the most exciting to watch because both offensive and defensive players take the track at once.
Despite the required skill, derby girls said it is easy to pick up.
"I was never a roller skater or a rink rat," 29-year-old Jocelyn O'Brien, known as Rusty Kuntz, pronounced "Koontz," said. "You can join at any time and come out here and be amazing, never having done it before. That's unique for sports, especially in women's sports."
That opportunity, coupled with the fierce athleticism the sport requires, makes it an easy fit in the feminist world.
For Dunes, that meant shifting her opinion of what is beautiful.
"You start to admire strong women," she said. "All of those images of skinny women that you consider beautiful when you're a kid are gone. Now that just looks hungry -- and weak."
The only sign of being pretty Dunes is willing to flaunt on the track is the colorful tattoos etched into her arms and back.
Although her derby outfit shows off a rendition of the jewel in the lotus tattooed on her upper right arm, the meaning the picture represents is nowhere to be seen. Compassion is a feeling that Dunes is admittedly incapable of showing on the track.
"It's funny, because I have no compassion when I'm skating. None," she said. "I have never been afraid of confrontation, and that translates onto the track."
She said it is an adjustment for some women to be comfortable as combative predators. Some start out quiet, afraid to use their voice.
That wasn't the case for Dunes, though. As a jammer, she communicates to her teammates where she needs blockers who sometimes whip her around a pack of skaters. She's responsible for weaving past opponents to score points.
"I'm very aggressive," she said. "I yell a lot. I actually have to tone it down sometimes."
Contact Southwest/Spring Valley View reporter Jessica Fryman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 380-4535.