Former UCLA Star Gymnast Nia Dennis on taking up space and showing up authentically

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Former UCLA Star Gymnast Nia Dennis nearly broke the internet (more than once!) with her viral floor routines – now, she’s revealing what’s next for her.

Video Transcript

NIA DENNIS: Black excellence is Black people killing the game in any avenue, period. Simple.


Hey, guys, it's Nia Dennis here. And I'm with In the Know at MAKERS Conference 2022. I am a gymnast, dancer, stunt double, model, actress, all of the above. My experience as a Black gymnast in a predominantly white sport was a tough one. You know, you felt, like, alone a lot of the times and kind of like an outsider. There was a little bit of bullying here and there just because other people aren't used to me and things that I had. So it was definitely difficult. And it kind of influenced me in my growth, until I went to UCLA and kind of changed my perspective and was able to step into my best self.

I mean, I was really inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests that were going on during COVID. I, unfortunately, could not participate on the front lines because I was recovering from a surgery. So I wanted to do the same things, be on the front lines, but in the sport of gymnastics. It felt like such a heavy time and just a lot of darkness, and it felt like media was showing a lot of negativity towards it.

You know, we were really standing for something bigger than that. And I wanted to showcase the excellence that we possess in all areas, in dance, in sport, and everywhere. And so I did it through movement and through gymnastics and what I know best and what I love to do. I wanted to just really celebrate Black culture, Black excellence.

I hope to empower other women by being their most authentic self. I really feel like my floor routines went viral because I was showcasing authenticity and just being everything that I felt like made me the woman that I was at that time, still today. Being your most authentic self, I think, will just resonate and connect with people way more than if you try to be somebody else. There's only one you, and nobody else could be a better you.

What I would say to somebody who is having a tough time taking up space is to remember your why, why you're doing whatever it is that you're doing and to just step into it. No regrets. This time in my life is just a time where I'm literally exploring a whole bunch of different things, a whole bunch of passions that I've always been interested in since I was a kid. Whether I'm good at it, whether I'm not good at it, just seeing what I jive with and what I don't jive with and what makes me really happy and what I want to work towards and creating goals for myself outside of sport.

I learned to take it day by day. At UCLA, Miss Val, my head coach there, she encouraged me to be present, which was very hard for me at the time. I was like, I don't know how to be in the present. Like, what does that mean? I was always thinking towards the future and kind of holding on to the past too. So learning how to be in the present moment is kind of what has allowed me to let myself not have too much pressure to figure out what's next.

The next chapter hopefully is a ton of entertainment. I hope I'm on tour with artists, dancing. And I hope I'm in a movie. And I hope I'm a model one day. So yeah, it's exploring all of these avenues and, you know, just taking it one step at a time.