When was the last time you’ve heard a Kendrick Lamar song during a gymnastics routine? Tupac? How about a little Soulja Boy for good measure? The answer is the same for all three options: Never! That is until Nia Dennis recently blew the doors off a new chapter of the sport with a performance that put the world on notice.

But it’s not just that her music choice is leaving traditionalists puzzled. Dennis is truly skilled at her craft. To borrow the words of NBA legend Patrick Ewing, she came in to “kick butt and take names”. Coming in clutch with a 9.95 rating, the 21-year-old secured the second win in as many tournaments this season for UCLA.

UCLA athlete Nia Dennis, creator of the Black Excellence gymnastics routine
Image via @niaadennis on Instagram

And while her perfomance has gone viral in recent days, it’s not necessarily uncharted territory for the talented 21-year old. Early last year, a routine of hers that incorporated sections of Beyoncé songs had already caused a stir in the world of gymnastics.

But her performance from January 24th proceeded to blow media coveragae out the water with news outlets from ESPN SportsCenter to The Today Show and BET picking up on the story. And the attention did not stop there. To the contrary.

In addition to former First Lady Michelle Obama, Dennis received heaps of praises from the world of music. From Janet Jackson to Common and Beyoncé herself, the cream of the crop recognized the UCLA bruin not only for her athletic achievements but for her determination of using her platform to bring attention to social conditions such as the #BlackLivesMatter movement as well as the role of black female athletes in gymnastics.

A trailblazer in the world of gymnastics herself, 2016 4x Olympic gold medalist and 19x(!) world champion Simone Biles chimned in with support for the next generation.

All of these incredible people I drew inspiration from, looked up to, and idolized literally know MY name. This is insane. I couldn’t be more grateful.

Nia Dennis

Despite all of the positivity that has come with her spectacular performances, Mia Dennis, like numerous other black female athletes has dealt with rejection in a predominantly white sport. She details some of her experiences as well as her motivation for channeling those experiences into her “Black Excellence” routine in an interview with Caroline Kitchener for The Lily.

How did you channel Black Lives Matter into gymnastics?

The subject of Black Likes Matter is so heavy. It is difficult for people to talk about — and sometimes you have to meet people where they’re at, with a celebration. Every single song is a major Black artist, musician, from different time periods. They had a huge impact on Black culture, which has also had a huge impact on me. So I’m just literally celebrating what they’ve done and having the time of my life.

You’ve used the term Black Excellence to describe this routine. What does that term mean to you?

It’s a highlight and a celebration literally of Black greatness, things that have had an impact on Black culture and the Black community. Every musician in my floor routine has had an impact, whether it was dance, whether it was activism, whether it was stepping, whether it was Greek things. That was just great. That was just excellent.

To read the entire interview head over to The Lily.

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