UCLA gymnast Nia Dennis made headlines last year with her Beyoncé-inspired floor routine. Now, she's getting high marks for a new routine that pays homage to Black culture -- and getting praise from celebrities like Michelle Obama, Kerry Washington and Missy Elliott, among others.
"I was crying every single time. The fact that all of the people that I looked up to and drew inspiration from know my name, that's insane," Dennis told ET's Rachel Smith, before sharing that among her favorite celebs that have reached out to her is the "Work It" rapper. "Oh my gosh, probably Missy Elliott because one of her songs is in my floor routine and I was like, 'Yes, girl, you're a literal icon!' I'm like, 'You helped shape me into me.' That's crazy. I'm just shook."
"All the celebrities that reach out to me, such a huge honor and I message them back," she added.
Last month, Dennis competed for her team against Arizona State. Her almost two-minute routine went viral for her incredible tumbling skills, as well as her hit playlist which included Black artists like Elliott, Kendrick Lamar, Megan Thee Stallion, Tupac Shakur and more. She scored a 9.95, taking home first place and helping UCLA score the win.
Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas also reached out. She and Douglas trained together "every day for two years," Dennis shared.
"Oh my gosh, I love her so much. I am getting emotional," she said after watching a video from Douglas. "God, I miss her so much, and I am so proud of her in everything that she is doing too and accomplishing. She has always been an inspiration to girls who look like me and myself and to have the opportunity to train in Ohio like she said, we became really good friends and I just love her so much."
Dennis also has dreams of one day competing at the Olympics. She said, "Now that they have been pushed back a year" the "opportunities are endless."
"I was training to be a gymnast a lot of my life and I was trying out for the Olympics in 2016," she shared. "That was supposed to be my year, and I actually tore my Achilles three months before the Olympics and that took me out."
"I wanted to quit so bad, like never do gymnastics again," she continued. "So I'm really glad I didn't quit and kept fighting and [overcame] obstacles. And hopefully adding that to my story to let other young girls know that it does get tough but overcome these obstacles and you can accomplish more dreams. [The] Olympics were my dreams, my entire life, but I wasn't gonna allow myself to not achieve the rest of my goals."
Dennis' viral performance was also a statement as to why Black History Month is more important than ever this year.
"Especially this year because of so many social injustice issues going on in society and it's just a time for the Black community really to come together," she asserted. "Black History Month is just a celebration and a highlight of all things Black excellence, great things that Black people have done. And we just celebrate and uplift and support and I hope we can continue to do that all year long."
As for what Black excellence means to Dennis, she relayed that for her "it is a celebration of all of the excellent things that Black people do."
"Because it's not that we are good at what we do or contribute little, mediocre things, we are," she explained. "We excel at what we do and we contribute in big ways to the community, and that's more than enough to celebrate."
Meanwhile, with her newfound attention, Dennis hopes to encourage other women to share their stories.
"My biggest thing is remaining authentically true to yourself, and that's gonna get you further than really anything in life," she said. "That's really what I am, and this routine is, I believe, a reflection of everything that I am as a woman today, and things that helped me, shaped me into this woman. And there's so many cultures, so many backgrounds and I just hope that everybody can remain authentically true to themselves and exuberate confidence and light through their own stories."