Behind The UCLA Floor Routine

Behind The UCLA Floor Routine

Behind The UCLA Floor Routine 

By Megan Roth 

UCLA is known for its spectacular floor routines, even by those outside of the gymnastics world. Routines from UCLA gymnastics alumni like Katelyn Ohashi and Nia Dennis have tens and even hundreds of millions of views! As the Bruins competed their first set of home meets this season, Inside Gymnastics sat down with UCLA assistant coach and choreographer BJ Das, sixth year Margzetta Frazier, freshman Katelyn Rosen, and fifth year transfer Nya Reed to learn about what goes into creating a UCLA floor routine, what the legacy of UCLA floor means to them, the preparation needed to perform full out, and more.

For many, the pressure to create more than 10 unique, creative, and engaging floor routines each year could get overwhelming, but for BJ Das, “it’s the easy part.” She embraces the collaborative choreography process and takes pride in creating routines that individually fit the strengths and personalities of each gymnast. Instead, Das said picking out music to use for floor routines is the most time consuming part of the process. She’s very picky, especially when it comes to selecting music that sounds interesting without any words, but once she finds the music that feels right, new ideas for choreography start flowing.

Rather than coming up with choreography in advance, Das creates routines on the spot with each gymnast. She explained  that this allows her to get a feel for how each gymnast interprets the music to “exaggerate their natural style.” The choreography process at UCLA is playful and Das likes to bring other teammates in on the process. “If someone is silly and does a cool move, like do that,” Das said. For the most part, Das likes to come into choreography sessions very open-minded, but mentioned it was on her mind for a while to bring back a section of Chae Campbell’s fan-favorite 2021 floor routine into her 2024 routine!

Even though Das’ choreography process is largely based on freestyling, a lot of strategic thinking goes into creating each routine. Das is very careful about choosing sections of the music to use for tumbling and sections that are best for dance. She loves to pick sections of the music that enhance each skill, leaving the coolest sections of the music for dance in order to build up to the big tumbling. Das also sets routines around different sections of Pauley Pavilion. She’s aware of where the judges sit, where teammates will stand during routines, and where UCLA’s student section is and strategically directs parts of routines to these areas.

Graduate student Margzetta Frazier loves how open minded Das is throughout the choreographic process. “BJ is really good at knowing that everyone doesn’t dance the same,” Frazier said. “She’s able to look at all of us and see what we would feel the most confident doing and what feels natural to us. I love BJ for that.” 

For her last NCAA floor routine, Frazier and Das wanted to put something together that is different from her past routines. Das explained that many of Frazier’s routines in the past had specific themes like her voguing routines in 2019 and 2023 and her Janet Jackson routine in 2021. Instead of having a theme, this year’s routine is “very much a reflection of the most fun side of her personality, the side where she doesn’t take herself too seriously,” Das said. “It’s high energy. It’s fun and feels like a party.” 

Frazier explained that her routine is dedicated to her dad – “He’s my inspiration as far as energy and being a class clown. I just wanted to do something special for him.” 

For Frazier, this season’s lighthearted, fun routine is dual-purpose. “I wanted something lighthearted that makes the girls laugh and that makes the competition environment a little less like a competition,” Frazier said. “Something that gets the girls out of their head. I just want them to laugh and enjoy it.” 

This choreography is also less intricate than past years’ have been for Frazier. “It’s nothing too crazy, especially because of my ankles,” she said. “When we choreographed the routine, I couldn’t walk. I was on crutches and in a boot. I was still trying to figure out how I can do more intricate foot movements without jeopardizing my ankles because the tumbling is easy. The tumbling is fine. It’s the changing direction fast that will snag it.” 

Even though Frazier’s dance ability is extremely extensive, she explained that there’s just some styles that don’t work for her. “Like Katelyn Rosen’s routine, I could never dance like that, but it’s incredible, Frazier said, adding that Das’  ability to isolate each gymnast’s personal style and strengths make her such a special choreographer.

Das explained that Rosen “came into the program knowing she wanted to go all in.” It was always a dream for Rosen to have a UCLA floor routine, so finally creating hers was a surreal experience. The creepy, dark style was something she knew she wanted to do. “Once we went into the studio and we started working on movements, the whole witch vibe just sort of came together and we were like, ‘Yeah that’s your character, creepy witch’ and from there it was just like magic.” Das added that Rosen is very good with eye contact and acting with “a little bit of evil,” which made it really easy to build on the theme of her routine.

Rosen also said she feels being so immersed in performing her floor routine helps her execute her gymnastics. “Every time I salute, I’m just thinking about creeping the audience and the judges out and that almost gives me a boost of confidence because when I’m thinking about the performance aspect, it gets so much more fun and I get much more locked into my gymnastics,” she said.

Das explained that the team culture at UCLA is one that emphasizes performance. “Whether they feel confident as a dancer or not, they expect it and embrace it.” For fifth year transfer Nya Reed, the challenge was not embracing the performance of her routine, but instead it was adjusting to the endurance needed to dance as full out as she wants to. 

Reed said while at Florida, she always admired UCLA on floor. “Even though I wasn’t here, I saw those viral routines and those viral moments and how they hold themselves, how they carry themselves, how much they enjoy doing floor,” Reed said. “When I got here, I was very excited to be able to be a part of that UCLA floor legacy.” 

Reed’s routine encapsulates many parts of her: her Delta Sigma Theta sorority, HBCU music, music from her hometown in the DMV area, and its upbeat, hip hop style. She loves that it represents her personality and Das  explained that Reed has really “come into her own with the routine.” But because Reed is dancing so much more full out than she did in her previous routines, building up the endurance to tumble and perform has been difficult. 

At Florida, Reed competed a three pass routine and wanted her UCLA routine to have three passes too, but quickly realized that wouldn’t work. “I did my first routine and was like, ‘I’m so tired, I’m so exhausted, I can not breathe. I literally don’t want to change it,’” Reed said. I can not even think about the three pass routine now.” Das added that Reed struggled with her last pass for a while because of “the amount of choreography and the fullness of it” in her routine, but Reed explained that working with her teammates and coaches to find places in her routine to breathe really helped her overcome the struggle.

Rosen added that she is also performing one less pass, going from four passes in Elite to three passes in NCAA. “The endurance part is definitely difficult because I never had to dance this much and perform this much when I did Elite,” Rosen said. “Even though it’s one less pass, the routine is just as hard as it used to be for me.” Both Reed and Rosen noted that they do intense cardio circuits starting in the pre-season that prepare them for the endurance needed to perform their routines.

As for routines to look out for, Das mentioned freshman Alex Irvine’s hip hop-style routine that fits her “bubbly personality.” Irvine performed an exhibition routine on February 4 against Arizona and proved Das right when she said the routine will be a crowd pleaser. Das is also excited about senior Frida Esparza’s Metallica routine! She admitted it was hard for her to envision Metallica as floor music, but now that the routine is complete, she’s excited for people to see it.

Follow the Bruins!

As UCLA returns home for their next two meets, watch out for these floor routines as well as what will be close meets between Utah and Cal!

UCLA’s remaining regular season schedule:

February 19th – UCLA vs. Utah | 5:30 p.m. ET | ESPNU

February 25th – UCLA vs Cal | 5 p.m. ET | Pac 12 Network

March 1st – UCLA at Stanford | 8 p.m. ET | Pac 12 Network

March 9th – UCLA at Arizona State | 3 p.m. ET | Pac 12 Network

March 16th – UCLA vs Clemson | 5 p.m. ET | Pac 12 Network

All photos by Lloyd Smith for Inside Gymnastics

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