Professional dancer Akira Armstrong had a pretty big idea in 2008 after enduring multiple unsuccessful casting calls.
The plus-size Bronx, N.Y., native, who has been dancing since she was 8 years old, told In The Know that facing repeated rejection due to her size and “aesthetic” fueled her to create her own lane in the world of the performing arts — and thus, Pretty Big Movement was born.
“I think people in the industry are still afraid of accepting plus-size [people] because … we’re different,” Armstrong explained. “We’re not the ‘perfect’ aesthetic.”
“I had to fight through a lot of things. You know, I had to always prove myself to be accepted, and I just got tired of that,” she said. “I knew that there were other women like me who have the same plight that needed a platform to showcase their love for the art of dance.”
Credit: Akira Armstrong
According to Armstrong, Pretty Big Movement — a fabulous, full-figured dance company specializing in various dance genres such as hip-hop, jazz, African, modern and more — is so much more than a dance company: It’s a whole “lifestyle.”
“It’s the way of living,” she explained. “It’s about empowering through dance, through movement.”
“Pretty Big Movement means to me freedom, self-love, character, attitude, love, acceptance, growth, spiritual ministry,” she added. “It’s so many things. It’s beyond me.”
A fateful 2007 call with Frank Gatson Jr., who previously worked as Beyoncé’s artistic director, was the final push in Armstrong’s journey to founding Pretty Big Movement.
“I had called him after I had auditioned for a dance agency,” recalled Armstrong, who performed as a principal dancer in two of Beyoncé’s music videos, “Greenlight” and “Get Me Bodied.”
“One of the things I would never forget that he told me — I said, you know, Frank, I think I’m just going to go back to New York because it’s just not working for me out here in LA,” she continued. “I’ve been trying to get representation from dance agencies, and no one is trying to give me an opportunity. And he was like, ‘You know what? They don’t have vision.’”
“When he said that to me, it was like an ‘aha’ moment,” she remembered. “I was just like, he is absolutely correct — in order for me to get to the things that I wanted to do in the industry and mainstream media, I had to create my own lane. I was in no shape or form of wanting to change who I was because this was me. If I want to lose weight, then I’ll lose weight. I’ve always been chubby. I’ve never been a size eight or lower than that. It’s just who I am. It’s my [genetic] makeup.”
For 12 years now, Pretty Big Movement has offered dance workshops to plus-size people around the world, striving to create a “no-judgment environment where individuals can feel comfortable dancing.”
“I tell people Pretty Big Movement has definitely taken on its own identity because even though I created it, Pretty Big is what it is, and it is definitely changing lives,” Armstrong told In The Know. “I get DMs and emails about how it has changed people’s lives. They have refrained from wanting to commit suicide. It’s helping people through cancers. This movement has impacted people all over the globe.”
Ultimately, Armstrong hopes that her movement can continue to help those who may feel discouraged about their size to learn to love their bodies — whether through dance or not.
“Be you. Love yourself first,” she said. “I definitely encourage everyone to self-love. Love themselves first before pouring into anyone else, and not just through dance. That’s just through anything in life.”
“And also, dream big,” she added. “Don’t ever think that what you’re doing is small. Whatever it is that you want to do, you do it.”
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