Pretty Big Momentum

 Photo courtesy of Akira Armstrong 

Photo courtesy of Akira Armstrong 

At our first Pretty Big Movement Move Your Curves Workshop, Akira announced that Pretty Big had been given the green light to host monthly workshops at the Alvin Ailey Extension. The entire Pretty Big crew erupted in excitement and joy at the news. They knew that their collective work under the loving leadership of Akira had made it all possible.

The Pretty Big girls are the epitome of teamwork and collaboration. Throughout the class they praised and affirmed us as we learned the routines. I personally struggled to pick-up some of the more complex footwork but there was always a Pretty Big team member close by to break it down for me (like ALL THE WAY DOWN cuz...I struggle).

Since the time of this interview, we have attended two Pretty Big workshops and each time they’ve ended with a sort of affirmation circle. First, there is this uniquely authentic moment when anyone who volunteered to command the middle of the circle could truly be themselves; moving their body in the way that felt best to them. And we on the outside cheered them on, affirming their expression of self through dance. Then Akira led us in a round of “I am Pretty Big and I am powerful because…” and each person in the circle completes the phrase with a testimony of what has made them big and powerful in life.


We’ve left each workshop so far loving ourselves and really seeing ourselves a little more each time. In Part 2 of our interview, Akira shares how she plans to expand the Pretty Big Movement and its empowering messaging while also dropping some gems on how to build up our community.

Carly: So what impact do you think the movement has made so far?

Akira: I think the impact that the Pretty Big Movement has made thus far is that it has definitely changed people’s perspectives on how they feel about themselves. A lot of women who felt like they couldn’t do it now feel like they can do it.  Regardless if they’re a dancer or not. You know just to be able to move your body and feel free. The movement has definitely been impactful in that sense. It has also definitely inspired other people to start their own little dance troupes. And that’s fine. It’s gonna happen. That comes with the territory. So I’m just so happy that people are starting to love themselves. Because with all the hatred and everything that’s going on in our country today, you know, we need stuff like Pretty Big. I think it’s very necessary. I definitely want to branch out, outside of New York City. Because people are now asking me hey we want to start a chapter here. Do you mind coming here? So now it’s starting to branch out from where are based here in New York City. Which is a good thing. I want to make it a franchise. Almost like a Zumba thing but make it my own way. So that’s one of the goals – to have different chapters. An LA chapter, a Charlotte chapter – you know – an Atlanta chapter. And as I said, we already have New York down pat. So it’s gonna grow. And then with us being the faces of Lane Bryant right now, which is – and that came before the video went viral. That was already in the making, honey.

Carly: What? I was gonna ask you about how that happened.

Akira: This is our 3rd time working with Lane Bryant. The first campaign we did which was Plus is Equal. No, I’m lying. The first was I’m No Angel where we danced for Salt-N-Pepa. Then the 2nd was Plus is Equal where we performed on 42nd Street. And then fast-forward 2 years, they asked me to be a part of This Body campaign. So we’ve built that relationship with them which is really important in business; to build those relationship. And when she gave me the call on December 1st – I remember it like it was yesterday – I almost passed out in the street because she told me what it entailed. A billboard. And then I already knew, when the video went viral, I said God this is all in alignment. This was supposed to happen. So I’m just happy that something like that is inspiring young girls to see your everyday woman on billboard. You can be inspired. The little girl watching Pretty Big can now see an example because growing up I didn’t have those examples.  The only example I had was Delphine Mantz in School Daze in the hair salon scene. That was my inspiration and she knows my mentor. When I met her I dropped to my knees. This is when I was a camp counselor for Ailey camp and she came to one of our shows. The tall guy that was in her today, he’s good friends with her and he brought her to meet me because he knew that was my inspiration. When I met her I told her “You’re the reason why I dance.” So, you know, that’s pretty much what it is for me. Growing up, a girl from the Bronx.

Sasha: What part of the Bronx are you from?

Akira: Tremont & Burnside

Carly: Bronx girl! I’m from Tiebout & 187th

Sasha: Co-op

Akira: I’m just a girl from the Bronx with a dream and I just so happened to be plus sized. Pretty Big can be anybody. The girl who has a disability who feels like she wants to do something in this capacity. Or the young lady who’s being bullied. You know so I just happened to be that girl from the Bronx who was plus-sized, who got rejected and got tired of being rejected because of how she looks.

Carly: And you embody all the things that Fit Inspire Health is about. You’re the complete embodiment. When you encounter those kinds of women, the ones who feel like they’re not able to overcome whatever disadvantages or shortcomings they have, how do you talk to them? What are your words of motivation?

Akira: So, how do I talk to those young ladies who feel like they can’t do or they’re not worthy of – I do this little exercise that I do with my girls in Pretty Big. Because some of them, who have been with me for six years, came into Pretty Big – I’m just using this as an example – not loving themselves. So I had one young lady, the tall one with the braid, Leticia. I had her stand in the mirror one day and I said, “Look yourself in the mirror and say I’m beautiful.” She couldn’t do it. She could not do it. She cried and she would not look up into the mirror. Fast forward six years now, she’s a selfie queen.  She has the most beautiful pictures. When I say gorgeous photos, gorgeous photos. Which is one of the reasons I chose her for Lane Bryant to be that example so that when she tells her story, it’s genuine. So that’s pretty much what I do. I do a lot of self-healing.  It’s not just about dance. It’s ministry. It’s definitely ministry. We’re a sisterhood. We don’t always agree. You know, we disagree. And being the leader, playing that position, is stressful. It’s challenging but I love what I do. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I left my 9 to 5 six years ago and I haven’t looked back since. So I’m a teaching artist. I teach the youth. I teach autistic kids dance and then I have Pretty Big.  And that’s what I do.

Carly: So, you’re a business woman?

Akira: I’m a business woman and also a make-up artist. You know I worked with Salt-N-Pep as their personal make-up artist for about 3 years. Traveled with them. So that’s another entity that I do which I’m going to start combining that with my workshops because that all goes hand-in-hand with the self-love and beauty. Hello! I’m gonna start incorporating that. So, it’s beyond dance. It’s not just dance.  So that’s my goal. Those are my short-term goals.

Carly: My next questions is, five to ten years down the road, where do you see yourself?

Akira: Five to ten years from now I definitely have a Pretty Big studio. I definitely want a Pretty Big tour incorporating other plus size artists.  Singers, dancers, spoken word artists, younger girls, my division, plus size men – let’s not forget about them too because they suffer. They suffer a lot. And the media is not so accepting of plus-size male dancers, models. You know they’re shunned. So, they also need a platform. It’s all about brand extension for me. Adding to make it bigger. Have my workshops – that’s my short-term goal right now, to have my workshops in different cities. So, that’s what’s going on now. But ten years from now there will be a Pretty Big Movement dance studio. That’s pretty much what it is.

Sasha: I just wanna say that it is so clear that this is a ministry. Like, you come in and you feel the love. You feel the acceptance. Carly and I were saying that we’ve never felt like this in a dance class before. There’s no competition in that negative way. It is all love.

Akira: We’ve had enough of that. Us (gestures to all the black women in the room). I’m tired of that. I’m so tired of the black woman being jealous of the next because she’s not doing – I’m so sick of that. Like, it just irks me. And I have removed myself from that type of energy because I don’t want that as I’m getting older. I think there’s not enough of us as black women who support each other in business. You know, we all want to be the first but to me it’s all about collaborating. When you collaborate, everybody wins. That’s how everybody wins you know. So partnering with Alvin Ailey, they win.  I win.  The name alone speaks for itself. You understand what I’m saying? So, that’s what it is for me. It’s really uplifting women, supporting women, supporting other businesses. How can we collaborate? How can we get this coin? You understand? Hello! We all have to make money, you know. So that’s what it’s about for me.