How Gymnast Nia Dennis Fuels Her Mind and Body

Image: Getty

Gymnast Nia Dennis is a master when it comes to making an entrance. In 2021, while competing on the UCLA gymnastics team, her floor routines went viral (racking up over 5 million YouTube views) for her unapologetic celebration of Black culture and electrifying choreography. She continued to make waves at the prestigious Met Gala Ball by taking over the red carpet with an entire marching band and performing a full routine—majorette style no less, complete with flips and splits, without breaking a sweat. 

After a ground-breaking year, Dennis is now taking some time to recharge and practice self-care. In collaboration with Pressed, the mega-watt athlete is sharing a crucial part of her wellness routine with the world: the limited-edition Nia Dennis Wellness Routine which includes hydrating, flavorful fresh juices. The bundle of drinks and well-being shots are packed with nourishing antioxidants and vitamins. 

EBONY spoke with Dennis about the small steps she’s making to be happier and healthier in 2022.

EBONY: As an athlete, can you share the small daily steps you are implementing into your day-to-day life to help care for your mind and body?

Nia Dennis: In the sport of gymnastics, we focus on taking things one thing at a time and focusing on getting 1% better every single day. It’s about taking small steps for a bigger change in a bigger goal. It has been hard for me to kind of figure out how I can do that outside of the sport of gymnastics. Pressed aligns with my daily wellness and health goals both in and out of the gym. This is why I’m so excited about my partnership with Pressed, which is three of my favorite Pressed juices and well-being shots. I choose them because they’re so good and delicious, especially for somebody like me who struggles with getting all the nutrients and antioxidants that I need every single day because I don’t always like to eat vegetables. Now it’s so easy because it’s a great tasting juice, and you can drink it on the go. And I also love the turmeric shot; it’s great for an energy boost and gets you ready to take the next step of your day.

Image: courtesy of Pressed

What are some of the things daily to calm and soothe your body? 

Being a gymnast, I’ve received so many injuries that I’ve dealt with throughout my entire life. I think starting and ending your workout with stretching helps you that day and for the next day too. You wake up feeling looser like you can move your body more easily. 

I also take Epsom salt baths. I think that’s great for recovery, especially after a hard workout to make sure that your body doesn’t get too tense and too tight after a workout, so you can keep going for the next day.

As a gymnast, you have to remain poised and confident as you perform and compete in front of audiences and judges. Can you share some of your keys to confidence? 

Honestly, I’ve had my struggles with confidence. There were times when I didn’t feel comfortable in my skin. I started journaling, which helped lead to positive self-talk. I used to speak pretty negatively about myself, mostly because of my environment and because of the culture of the sport in gymnastics; it was so focused on appearance. 

Although, I wasn’t always the most confident person, I made sure to just take little steps, small steps, getting 1% better daily, to build my confidence in the process. When I started journaling, I wrote down five things that I truly love about myself and focused on them instead of my flaws. Because when you focus on your flaws, it becomes, what can I do better? What else can I do? Instead of embracing the moment that you’re in and loving yourself where you’re at. 

Athletes often face the chance for injuries. Can you share how a torn Achilles three months before the 2016 Olympics impacted you

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from my injuries is just how resilient I am. Even though it’s so hard to be injured and to recover physically, it takes a toll on you mentally as well. You must go to therapy to rehab the injury and do everything you can to get your body back in shape or back to where it was. Once you do recover, your body will never feel the same as it did before your injury. 

Specifically, in 2016, after I tore my Achilles, I really did not want to do gymnastics anymore. I felt like everything that my family and I had sacrificed up until that point just went down the drain. It felt really unfair, and it was such a tough time for me. I had to dig deep because, during this time, I was a little bit depressed and didn’t really have joy in the sport of gymnastics anymore. 

But always in the back of my mind, I knew that there were other goals that I had in the sport of gymnastics, such as competing for UCLA, getting an education, and getting the credit I feel like I deserve. I should have been getting. Being able to make a name for myself in college gave me the ability to start fresh and gave me a little bit of a reset. I think the Achilles tear was that reset, unfortunately. Eventually, it created a new outlook, a new approach, and changed the course of my life.

What was it that brought you back to gymnastics? 

Honestly, it was my environment. Once I got to UCLA, I was just surrounded by so much love and support and with people who wanted to see me be my best self. I felt like I was on cloud nine all the time because I knew that even if I did make a mistake, people were going to have my back. And people were going to do everything that they could to help get me back on track. Miss Val [Valorie Kondos Field] was the head coach of UCLA gymnastics for a very long time, and I see her as like a second mother to me; she’s given me so many life tips. Not only did she put me on to journaling, but she also recommended that I go to therapy because I didn’t value my mental health at that time. That was definitely a big help and very refreshing. Once you feel like you’re finally your best self, you can take the next steps to thrive and achieve the goals that you want to achieve. 

Image: courtesy of
Pressed

Let’s talk about your iconic floor routines. Will you share how you came up with the idea and concept for the Beyonce floor routine?

UCLA gymnastics has always given us the space to express ourselves freely because we all have different strengths that we can bring to the table, and we’ve always been a very diverse team. For my Beyonce-themed floor routine, I was able to draw inspiration from the majorette style of dancing. I have so much family down south in New Orleans, and I was going to Battle of the Bands every single year for Thanksgiving and really enjoyed watching schools like Southern University and Grambling State. I always wanted to be a majorette dancer; they have the spice and confidence and are probably one of my bigger inspirations. 

When I started listening to music for the floor routine, it was kind of ironic that Beyonce dropped her “Homecoming” album, I was creating my floor routine, and it just aligned. She made marching band music, and I wanted to do marching band style dancing. I worked with my choreographer to create a routine that would showcase Black culture. A lot of people don’t know that majorette-style dancing is Black culture. I wanted to bring that to the sport of gymnastics, and everybody loved it, which is so great. But it wasn’t clear enough for everybody that this was black culture. I knew I wanted to take it up a notch in the next year. 

Will you tell us about the message you wanted to send with your Black Lives Matter-inspired floor routine

During the time the Black Lives Matter protests were going on, it was the same time as I was creating my next routine. I actually was recovering from shoulder surgery. I really wanted to go to the protest, but I couldn’t go because I was kind of on bed rest and just healing. I wanted to continue the fight and stand on a bigger stage on a different stage. I also let it be known that this is what Black culture is, and this can be done in the sport of gymnastics. 

You can see the majorette style in your entrance at the Met Gala.What was it like to prepare for an event not just where you are walking the red carpet but performing too?

When I received the phone calls from my manager asking if I wanted to go to the Met Gala, I thought he was joking, but of course, I said yes. I was invited by Stella McCartney not just to attend but perform with Brooklyn United Marching Band and make the biggest entrance at the Met Gala. It was very much in alignment with what I had been doing with the Beyonce routine and even my latest floor routine. I felt really supported by her, and it was so much fun too. I brought my parents with me; they were on the red carpet, across from me because I was so nervous. Even though I perform all the time, it was nerve-racking to perform in front of like your inspirations, your idols, like your favorite artists, your favorite singers who are all there on the same red carpet. The experience was so cool.

So for 2022 and beyond, what’s next for Nia Dennis?

I’m in a stage where I’m focused on taking care of myself and exploring opportunities in all things entertainment. I’m acting, stunt doubling, and dancing a little bit. Hopefully, you will get to see me a little bit more in those areas. I’m really excited for everybody to see what I have coming up soon.

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