UCLA gymnast Nia Dennis has been getting a lot of well-deserved attention since a video of her “Black Excellence” floor routine went viral last week. The choreography and music (which features Kendrick Lamar, Beyonce, Missy Elliott, and Tupac Shakur) pay tribute to Black culture, and she nailed every single step. (She scored a 9.95, just .05 short of a perfect 10.)
Dennis’ routine and its message have been praised far and wide, but it caught the attention of one person in particular: former first lady Michelle Obama, who saw the routine and tweeted Dennis.
Dennis was stunned to get a shout-out from Obama, and posted a video of her reaction in an Instagram story with the caption “My forever first lady.” Even on Twitter, you can tell how totally gobsmacked Dennis was to get that kind of compliment from Obama.
The former first lady was far from the only person to see Dennis’ routine and send her praise. She got shout-outs from Janet Jackson, Missy Elliott, Kerry Washington and Common.
Dennis went viral a year ago with her floor routine set to “Crazy in Love” by Beyonce, and she’s known for her routines that elevate the Black experience. Her latest routine, which she named “The Culture,” has an inspiration and a message that transcend gymnastics.
“The Black Lives Matter protests were pretty much the foundation,” Dennis told The Lily in an interview. “This summer, I had shoulder surgery so I wasn’t going out. I was trying to heal, trying to prepare for the season. But I was definitely out there in spirit.”
Through her art, Dennis is centering Black culture and spreading the message of Black Lives Matter — and maybe even making it easier for people to talk about.
“The subject of Black Likes Matter is so heavy,” Dennis told The Lily. “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.”