Three cheers for Akira Armstrong. The 2005 Utica College graduate has added a big dose of reality to the entertainment industry and is an inspiration for every full-figured performer who ever stepped on a stage.
Armstrong and her dance troupe, Pretty Big Movement, performed as backup dancers for rapper and singer Lizzo at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards. Lizzo’s hits – “Truth Hurts” and “Good as Hell” – needed to be accented by dancers with the right energy, costumes – and size. Pretty Big Movement was a perfect fit.
And why not? Talent – dancing or otherwise – doesn’t always come in the stereotypical package. Despite impressive credentials that included time with the Jubilation and Bernice Johnson dance companies, performances in Vienna, Austria and Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theater, and two music videos with Beyoncé, the full-figured Armstrong had a tough time getting an agent for her career due to her size.
“I had countless agents tell me they loved my dance style, but didn’t know how to market me,” the Bronx native said in a recent O-D interview. “I was ready to quit and become a makeup artist. But then one day, it hit me: I could either sit around waiting for someone to give me an opportunity I deserved or I could create it myself. That’s how Pretty Big Movement was born.”
Today, Armstrong is the CEO for the dance company featuring full-figured dancers that specialize in various dance styles, including hip-hop and jazz. Within two years, Pretty Big Movement had traveled to places such as Canada and Korea. From there, the company booked segments on Good Morning America, became models for Lane Bryant and performed on America’s Got Talent.
Bravo. Our society today is obsessed with tall and skinny. If you believed the marketing specialists, you’d think we were a nation of svelte runway models with long blonde hair stuffed into size 5 dresses and oozing with talent.
In the real world, talent also oozes from bigger places than that. Armstrong knew that. And so she started Pretty Big Movement to showcase real people, using her public relations background from UC to pitch and promote.
When Lizzo was looking for just the right dancers to portray the meaning behind her songs, the chemistry was there.
“That meant average-size women, not tall and skinny,” said Armstrong. “Pretty Big Movement was ready for that — and, from the responses the act has brought, so was everyone else.”
Since, social media feedback has been awesome, as well as deals with Nike and Curvy Con.
BIG deal? You bet. Let this be a lesson for every girl and woman, boy and man who might be stigmatized by the sterotypical body images that infect society today.
“I tell every woman I meet: No matter where you are, be who you are,” said Armstrong. “I think this exposure is a direct result of that, and I am blessed to watch it move forward.”
So are we.