Former UCLA star gymnast Nia Dennis on taking up space and showing up authentically: 'I wanted to just really celebrate Black culture, Black excellence'
Former UCLA gymnast Nia Dennis showcases her authentic self in her routines to highlight Black excellence.
Dennis has been going viral for her performances since 2020 when she was a UCLA Bruin. In The Know checked in with the star dancer, model, stunt double and gymnast at the 2022 MAKERS Conference. She spoke about how the Black Lives Matter movement inspired her viral floor routines.
Early on as a gymnast, Dennis struggled to find her place in the predominantly white sport. She was even bullied because of it. It wasn’t until she went to UCLA that she found her voice. During the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter protests began to shape her gymnastics.
“I, unfortunately, could not participate on the front lines because I was recovering from a surgery,” Dennis told In The Know. “So I wanted to do the same things — be on the front lines but in the sport of gymnastics.”
Dennis felt like the media misunderstood the movement during the dark and heavy time.
“I wanted to showcase the excellence that we possess in all areas,” she said. “I wanted to just really celebrate Black culture, Black excellence.”
The gymnast believes she’s gone viral so many times because she’s expressing herself authentically.
“Being your most authentic self, I think, will just resonate and connect with people way more than if you try to be somebody else,” Dennis said.
She tries to stay humble and down-to-earth so that she can continue to learn and grow. Even those at the “highest level,” she said, still have room to improve. As for now, Dennis is exploring her interests and looking forward to the next chapter.
“I hope I’m on tour with an artist dancing. And I hope I’m in a movie. And I hope I’m a model one day,” Dennis said. “So yeah, it’s exploring all of these avenues and, you know, just taking it one step at a time.”
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