Editor's Note: The photo was taken at a gymnastics event in February 2020 before social distancing guidelines were enforced.
Sophomore Soraya Hawthorne brings a certain energy to Georgia gymnastics in her routines this year as she steps into tradition and her own style throughout the meet.
The Memphis, Tennessee, native was chosen as the seventh GymDog to continue the long tradition of the moonwalk on beam this year. She is preceded by historic GymDogs such as Sabrina Vega, Nikki Childs and Cassidy McComb for the Georgia ritual.
Despite her success doing the moonwalk on the four-inch spread of beam in the last three meets, Hawthorne wasn’t the only candidate in the running to carry on the long-standing tradition. Her teammate Haley de Jong was also considered to incorporate the dance move into her routine by head coach Courtney Kupets Carter, but the final decision ultimately came down to each gymnast’s unique style in the event.
“It took a while to really fine-tune it and realize Soraya was definitely the right choice,” Kupets Carter said.
Every gymnast had the opportunity to practice the skill and show it off in front of the group before Kupets Carter made her decision.
“I will say, when we first started doing it more in December with the routines, I was like, ‘Alright, we have a little bit of work to do.’ Now she's gotten into such a good flow and a good feel,” Kupets Carter said.
Hawthorne’s routines including the moonwalk have earned her an average of 9.73 in the event since she debuted the move in Georgia’s road loss to Florida.
She continues with homages to the classics in her floor routine, where she performs to a dynamic mashup of Prince songs, including “When Doves Cry” and “Kiss.”
“[Kiss] came on while we were practicing and I was just really jamming to it,” Hawthorne said. “And we came to the idea of mixing some of his songs together and putting that routine daily. So that's how that came to be, and I really liked his music too.”
Her routine showcases her charisma that always comes out in practice, Kupets Carter said.
“Not many people can have a dance party on the floor during a meet and really enjoy themselves, just have fun, be real, be loose and relaxed while they're dancing and out there, and she nails that part,” Kupets Carter said. “When music comes on that she likes in the gym, you'll see her dancing and that's what I think we really noticed about her too and hoping that she could just have this party in a routine.”
Hawthorne previously performed to a remix of Beyonce’s “Run the World” last year and was prepared to compete to music by Missy Elliot before the impromptu change to Prince. Her taste in artists is mirrored on the West Coast, where UCLA gymnastics’ Nia Dennis performs a floor routine to some of the same artists.
Led by a mashup that includes Missy Elliot, 2Pac, Kendrick Lamar and more, Dennis’ “Black excellence” routine went viral in January.
After Beyonce and Prince, Kupets Carter and Hawthorne saw an opportunity to continue the trend in artists for Hawthorne’s floor routines.
“When the Prince song came up, we were thinking she could always have a really iconic Black artist as her music as a theme as she progresses,” Kupets Carter said. “So that was something fun that we talked to her about, and she loved that idea. So we'll keep that moving.”
Hawthorne’s cool and collected moonwalking beam routine and high-energy Prince floor performance will be on display on Feb. 12 in Stegeman Coliseum as the GymDogs take on Alabama.