Meet UCLA’s favorite gymnastics fan. How Josh Lim became the team’s best backup dancer
- Los Angeles Times · Mar 28, 2023
Almost no one in the world can match Brooklyn Moors’ artistry.
Josh Lim is only here to try.
As the UCLA gymnast debuted a new floor routine in an exhibition performance March 5, Lim stood in the front row of the student section at Pauley Pavilion.
When Moors, an Olympic all-around finalist for Canada who is known for her elegance on floor, dipped her head, arched her back and dramatically lowered herself to the floor during her routine, there was Lim, a bespectacled third-year student majoring in applied mathematics and statistics, matching her every move.
Lim was out of focus in the background of a floor-level video, but he still drew attention.
“The boy in the back!” a tweet with a short video read.
Work.” Clapping emojis punctuated each word.
Standing alongside his friend Laura DeFalco, Lim became a fixture at UCLA gymnastics meets this season.
They dress in Hawaiian shirts, stand in the front row and match the floor choreography of every Bruins gymnast.
Lim’s perfect sideline dancing is almost as eye-catching as the gymnasts he’s mimicking.
“He knows every single one of our routines on the dot,” senior Chloe Lashbrooke said.
“He nails it almost better than me.” Said Olympic silver medalist and world champion Jordan Chiles: “Josh be on point.
… He should get an award for that.
He should get an award for the hypest man out there.” It’s dedicated students such as Lim who have helped UCLA gymnastics become “the best show in L.A.,” senior Margzetta Frazier said.
The show gets a special season finale this week as the Bruins host the NCAA regionals, a three-round, nine-team meet with the top two finishers advancing to the NCAA championships.
Brigham Young University and Boise State start the regional meet Wednesday in a dual meet with the winner advancing to Thursday’s regional semifinal at 7 p.m.
4 UCLA, No.
14 Missouri and Stanford.
5 Utah and No.
12 Auburn headline the 4 p.m.
semifinal Thursday against Southern Utah and Washington.
The top two teams from each semifinal compete in the regional final at 5 p.m.
If the Bruins emerge from the crowded field, they will end a two-year nationals drought, the longest in program history.
While UCLA is competing for a spot at the NCAA championships, Lim will also be working for his own title.
The president of the UCLA club gymnastics team, Lim will be in Memphis, Tenn., at the National Assn.
of Intercollegiate Gymnastics Clubs (NAIGC) national championships.
It was a torturous decision to not attend the NCAA regionals, Lim said.
In addition to getting to dance a final time with the Bruins this year, the meet will feature some of his college favorites such as Utah’s Maile O’Keefe and Kara Eaker.
But as a fan of a team known for spreading joy through gymnastics, it seems more fitting that Lim will spend the week following UCLA’s example on his own competition floor.
“The motto of NAIGC is for ‘the love of the sport,’ ” Lim said.
“We’re just a bunch of people who are all getting together and really doing the sport that we love.” Lim won the men’s developmental floor exercise at nationals last year and choreographs routines for himself and his teammates.
Because the NAIGC allows cross-gender competition, Lim can perform men’s and women’s floor routines.
Lim, who has also worked on the balance beam, vault, uneven bars and parallel bars this year, estimated he’s typically one of two or three men who compete in women’s floor during his meets.
With the support of his teammates, Lim doesn’t hold back.
“My goal is to always give the judges the biggest show possible,” Lim said.
“I want to be like, you have never seen an Asian guy perform like this before.
… I get a really big rush of energy and a lot of confidence on stage.” Lim’s parents enrolled him in gymnastics classes to develop strength and flexibility when he was young.
He stopped taking lessons when his skill level progressed and his parents began worrying about his safety in the sport, but he rekindled his interest in tumbling when he watched “America’s Got Talent” in 2015.
He started teaching himself old tricks in the park and watching elite gymnastics competitions online.
It was Sophina DeJesus' viral floor routine in 2016 that introduced him to UCLA.
Lim, who participated on his high school hip-hop dance team, loved the performance quality in UCLA’s floor routines.
Growing up five minutes away from Stanford, he tried to attend meets when the Bruins traveled to the Bay Area.
But a home meet for the Bruins just hits differently, and the student section is why.
"The amount of fun and energy that the Den brings to every competition is unlike anything else," UCLA coach Janelle McDonald said.
"I really do feel like we have some of the best student sections in NCAA gymnastics." Students don’t take the responsibility of being a Bruins gymnastics fan lightly.
The Den prints out a two-page packet of notes for each meet, and leaders lay them neatly on every seat before the competition begins.
The cheat sheets list gymnastics basics, including how scoring works and what to look for during competition such as straight legs and stuck landings.
It includes dance-along instructions for each gymnast’s floor routine such as “stretch your arms and yawn” at the beginning of freshman Selena Harris’ routine or finish Emma Malabuyo’s routine with your hand in the air and looking at the ceiling.
Lim doesn’t need the notes.
During the preseason, Lim attends several preseason intrasquad meets in which gymnasts and assistant coach/choreographer BJ Das teach students some of the choreography.
Den leaders videotape the routines and study them for the Denography note packet.
For someone who was obsessed with elite gymnastics, the opportunity to share the gym with world champions, national team stars and internet icons is overwhelming.
“I am the luckiest person,” Lim said.
“I have to pinch myself every single time I go up and hug one of the gymnasts, like, 'Oh my God, this is so cool.' ” Lim’s real practice begins during winter break.
After the Meet the Bruins event in December, Lim pores over all the videos uploaded by UCLA and fans to teach himself the choreography.
He takes every opportunity to practice and makes sure to arrive early to meets so he can rehearse alongside the gymnasts during warmups.
Chiles and junior Chae Campbell have the most difficult routines to learn this season, Lim said, because of the complex choreography.
Frazier’s is his favorite.
Frazier has long been one of Lim’s favorite college gymnasts.
Lim loves Frazier’s routines so much that as a freshman in 2021, he learned her 2019 “Din Da Da” vogueing floor routine and submitted it to an NAIGC competition, which was held virtually because of the pandemic.
He won first place in the “recreate a famous floor routine” category.
Frazier was paying attention.
“I had to come at him and say your leaps look better than mine.
Delete the video,” the three-time All-American said jokingly.
“But when we see each other now, it feels like we’re friends.
I always like seeing him in the gym.
He’s Bruin family." UCLA's influence on social media has grown to the point where even fans acting as backup dancers can go viral.
Lim is amused each time friends spot him and DeFalco in the background of the latest video.
It seems that more people are sending him clips this year, but he denies that he has become a minor Gymternet icon.
Whenever he watches himself, he just thinks about how he could have done the choreography better.
For now, he'll keep working..