UCLA gymnast Nia Dennis made headlines after performing a nearly-perfect floor routine to the music of Kendrick Lamar, Beyoncé, Missy Elliott, Megan Thee Stallion, Soulja Boy and Tupac Shakur on Saturday. Now, she’s gained the attention of some of her biggest role models, from former Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson to former first lady Michelle Obama.
“I was speechless,” Dennis told Ellen DeGeneres of getting the attention of Obama. “I found out actually in the middle of practice literally all my teammates came over to me and we were all just cheering and so excited. Not only did she tweet me, she actually posted the entire video so that means she must have it in her camera roll or something and must watch it in her free time, maybe? Anyways, love her!”
— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) January 26, 2021
The 21-year-old college senior went on to talk about the important meaning behind her routine, after garnering admiration for her music selection.
“This routine I believe is a reflection of everything that I am as a woman today. I picked a lot of really influential artists, Black artists that had a huge impact in the Black community. For starters, Kendrick Lamar. You know, he’s a huge activist in his music,” she explained. “We’re not allowed to use words and sounds in our floor routine so I figured if I wasn’t going to be able to say it, I wanted to do it in a different way.”
It isn’t the first time that Dennis has received attention for her impactful routines. In fact, she performed on DeGeneres’ show in March 2020 to the tunes of Beyoncé.
Since then, she’s worked through a number of injuries to get back on the mat. “Last year I was competing every weekend with a torn bicep, torn labrum, arthritis, bone chipped off. So it was really bad and I really took this time to heal and recover and I was working so hard every single day over quarantine,” Dennis explained. “I was in therapy every single day, I was training, finding anywhere I could work out — stairs, a park. Doing everything I possibly could to stay in shape so by the time season started I would be ready. And my biggest goal was to never give up, and that’s what I did.”
Although Dennis’ injuries got in the way of her Olympic dreams, she tells DeGeneres that she still has “so many opportunities” in her future.
“I’m super interested in stunt doubling and dancing.” she said, giving a shoutout to DeGeneres’ co-executive producer Stephen "tWitch" Boss. “tWitch, if you’re in here, you can hear me. Can we have a dance session once?”
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