January 28, 2021
The UCLA senior’s viral floor exercise prompted shout-outs from Michelle Obama and Janet Jackson by leaning into the freedom of expression unique to college gymnastics
Why we don’t see viral routines like Nia Dennis’s in the Olympics
The latest entry in the surprisingly robust YouTube subgenre of viral college gymnastics routines dropped over the weekend, flooding timelines everywhere and generating national media attention rare for the parochial sport. The footage of UCLA senior Nia Dennis tumbling and swaying in a shimmering blue leotard to a high-energy mashup of Kendrick Lamar, Beyoncé, Missy Elliott, Megan Thee Stallion, Soulja Boy and Tupac Shakur from Saturday’s dual meet against Arizona State was instantly hailed as a tribute to Black Excellence, racking up more than 10 million views in a matter of days while earning shout-outs from Michelle Obama, Janet Jackson, Kerry Washington and Ms Supa Dupa Fly herself.
The two-minute clip is not the first collegiate floor routine to bubble up into the mainstream. It’s not even Dennis’s first: the Ohio native’s Homecoming-themed floor exercise from a meet last season has been watched more than 30 million times and landed her on Ellen in March. And it’s not a coincidence that so many of them have come under the cultivation of UCLA’s longtime coach Valorie Kondos Field, the former classical dancer who in the three decades until her recent retirement transformed the Bruins into one of America’s most decorated programs.
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