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From the concourse level of Pauley Pavilion, where JaNay Honest was perched for UCLA’s season-opening meet against Arizona State on Jan. 23, the former Bruins gymnast and current Pac-12 Networks broadcaster knew almost immediately after Nia Dennis flipped her head back and settled into the finishing pose of her floor routine that Dennis was going to do it again.
UCLA gymnastics has mastered the art of breaking the internet, making a new viral floor routine an almost annual tradition. Each one takes over timelines on many social media channels while also shining light on a joyful branch of the sport that typically only exists in the American conscious in its rigid Olympic form once every four years.
“College gymnastics is a great platform and segue way into bringing more awareness into the sport,” said Honest, who competed for the Bruins from 2015 to 2018. “It’s just a different environment when it comes to elite. College gymnastics — there’s just so much more energy and excitement and fun.”
Compared with Olympic-level routines, which are often set to classical music and focused on packing in as many difficult skills as possible to achieve higher scores, college routines offer gymnasts opportunities to express their personalities through music, dance and themes. With popular music, updated dance styles and joyful smiles, gymnasts are conquering the internet in 90-second clips that are perfectly suited for sharing online.
Here’s a brief history of the internet’s favorite college floor routines:
2014: LSU’s Lloimincia Hall gets the trend going
While UCLA has been the epicenter of viral floor routines recently, one of the earliest came from Louisiana State’s Lloimincia Hall, who scored a perfect 10 on Jan. 31, 2014. Her energetic routine incorporated gospel music, old-school hits and marching band music and included sky-high tumbling passes.
The YouTube video has nearly 3 million views seven years later, but unlike recent floor routines that seem to catch fire overnight on social media, Hall’s rise to fame was more gradual. She performed the routine in January 2014, but didn’t reach “viral” status until April when she appeared on “Good Morning America.”
2016: Sophina DeJesus becomes "The Hip Hop Gymnast"
After whipping, hitting the nae nae and dabbing her way to a 9.925 against Utah in 2016, Sophina DeJesus quickly became known as “The Hip Hop Gymnast.” DeJesus earned more than 10 million views and appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” where she performed a toned-down version of the routine on stage.
DeJesus was one of the first viral routines at UCLA. Five years later, Honest, who was a sophomore at the time, remembered the unprecedented reaction, but marveled at the way social media has grown to help build the trend in the subsequent years.
"Social media wasn’t as big in 2016 as it is now," Honest said. "She went viral to the same caliber at Katelyn [Ohashi] and Nia, but because social media wasn’t as big, the word didn’t spread as much."
2017: Hallie Mossett gets in formation
A staple of a viral routine is popular music and Hallie Mossett found the ideal muse in Beyoncé.
The two-time UCLA All-American performed to a mix of Queen Bey’s hits including “Formation,” “Single Ladies” and “Partition.” She showed off her flexibility, opening the routine by lying flat on her back with her leg pinned behind her head in a full split and incorporated unique choreography like a dramatic headstand.
Mossett was the mastermind behind her own choreography, a skill she shared with her teammates by helping craft their routines and brings to her role as an assistant coach at Long Island. She made a TV appearance on the Hallmark Channel’s “Home & Family” to discuss the routine.
2018: Katelyn Ohashi part 1
UCLA's Ohashi earned her first taste of viral fame with a Michael Jackson medley in 2018. She collected more than 90 million combined views for her 2018 Pac-12 championship-clinching routine that earned a 9.95. With a wide, dimpled smile, difficult tumbling passes and a stunning drop to a split, Ohashi captured attention for her charisma and athletic feats alike.
2019: Ohashi raises the bar
After her success as a junior, Ohashi and then-head coach Valorie Kondos Field set out to deliver an even better performance for the gymnast’s senior send-off. Mission accomplished.
Ohashi officially became the “Perfect 10 gymnast” with her flawless routine on Jan. 12, 2019, that has set a new standard of viral floor routines. Everyone was enamored by her inspirational story of how she rediscovered her joy in gymnastics, giving up elite gymnastics where she was body shamed and emotionally and verbally abused by her coaches for UCLA.
2020: Nia Dennis takes the crown
Like Mossett three years before her, Dennis relied on a mix of Beyoncé tracks to vault her to viral fame. She had more than 20 million Twitter views and appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” where her family watched from the front row. Dennis’ younger sister Mya surprised her with flowers.
Dennis performed the routine on her 21st birthday, earning a career-high 9.975.
2021: Dennis does it again
Dennis' tribute to Black excellence went viral on Jan. 23, less than a year after her original viral routine. The experience felt like "a movie and a dream all over again," she said.
She earned more than 10 million views within one week, did virtual interviews with "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," "The Today Show," and NBC, sharing how the past year’s Black Lives Matters protests inspired her to use her gymnastics to contribute to the social justice conversation.
2021: Margzetta Frazier follows up
Just one viral routine wasn’t enough for the Bruins this year as junior Margzetta Frazier arrived with another one less than three weeks after Dennis.
Frazier debuted a new Janet Jackson routine on Feb. 10 and continued UCLA’s growing legacy of popular floor routines with a medley of Jackson hits, including “Nasty,” “If” and “Throb.” The two-time U.S. national team member even went as far as mimicking choreography directly from Jackson’s music video for “If,” taking Jackson’s iconic dance break to the gymnastics floor. Frazier makes angular shapes with her arms while shuffling across on the floor before she casually turns into a flip.
— UCLA Gymnastics (@uclagymnastics) February 11, 2021
The effort earned Frazier a 9.925 and caught Jackson’s eye as the star tweeted back “iLuvIT.”
— Janet Jackson (@JanetJackson) February 11, 2021
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.