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Meet UCLA gymnast Nia Dennis, who went viral after 'Black excellence' floor routine

"Black culture is not really recognized or known in the sport of gymnastics, so it was really important to me to bring that into the light of gymnastics," Dennis said.

A UCLA gymnast has wowed millions of people once again after her floor routine celebrating "Black excellence" went viral.

Nia Dennis' sensational floor exercise at a Pac-12 competition last week has garnered more than 10 million views on Twitter. The 21-year-old Bruins senior — who also went viral for her Beyoncé-themed routine in 2020 — performed to a mashup of music by Black artists, including Beyoncé, Missy Elliott, Kendrick Lamar and Tupac Shakur. The gymnast received an almost-perfect score of 9.95.

Dennis began her routine by taking a knee while raising her fist in the air, an homage to the protest movement led by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. She incorporated viral dances like the woah and the snap, as well as stepping, a tradition often performed by Black fraternities and sororities.

Nia Dennis performs during the UCLA Women's Gymnastics versus the Arizona State University Sun Devils at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles on Jan. 23, 2021.Don Liebig / Courtesy UCLA Athletics

Dennis' father, who was in a Black fraternity, sent her a video of him stepping while they were deciding on the choreography because Dennis wanted to pay tribute to him in her performance.

"Growing up, my dad was always stepping in the house," she told NBC News. "I'm so happy that I was really able to take this time, this year — my senior year — to honor him."

Now, people across social media continue to praise the routine. It has received shoutouts from celebrities such as record-setting U.S. gymnast Simone Biles, hip-hop star Missy Elliott and former first lady Michelle Obama.

Dennis said she appreciates the positive recognition and understands the importance of incorporating her identity and culture into her routines.

"Authenticity is so huge and something I value so heavily," she said. "And, you know, when you're the best version of yourself, the best product is going to come out."

While she loves her sport, Dennis admitted she had a tough time growing up without role models that mirrored her style or identity.

Nia Dennis performs during the UCLA Women's Gymnastics versus the Arizona State University Sun Devils at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles on Jan. 23, 2021.Courtesy UCLA Athletics

"It was very difficult, and especially when you have your coaches telling you that you don't look good or you're not in shape because you don't fit into those typical styles of gymnastics, which is so cookie-cutter," she shared. "Black gymnasts are kind of rare in the sport of gymnastics. And Black culture is not really recognized or known in the sport of gymnastics, so it was really important to me to bring that into the light of gymnastics — to raise awareness of Black culture."

As for what the future holds for the college student, Dennis hopes to make her sport more inclusive.

"I definitely will be working in the future to ensure that there is a possibility for all young athletes to do any sport and have the same equal opportunity to do so," she said.

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