The Start of Something PRETTY BIG

 Photo courtesy of Akira Armstrong 

Photo courtesy of Akira Armstrong 

When we walked into the dance studio at the Alvin Ailey Extension for the Pretty Big Movement Move Your Curves workshop, we knew immediately we were in for something special. The room was filled with vibrant, beautiful women of all shapes and sizes. Many of whom, like us, had seen Pretty Big making waves on social media and wanted in on their inspiring message that big bodies can move with both poise and power. As soon as the class began, it was clear that this was no ordinary dance workshop. Akira and her Pretty Big girls encouraged us to move and connect with our bodies in a way that was both liberating and empowering. The session was less about getting the routines right and more about using dance as an expression of self-acceptance and self-love.

Throughout the class, Akira shared her heart with us including a moving testimony to the power of women pouring their gifts into the younger generation through mentorship. Halfway through, she introduced us to her high school dance teacher whose recent ailment had her on crutches. Akira gathered us around her dance teacher to tell us how much it meant to her to have her mentor there watching her teach. There was not a dry eye in the house as she passionately conveyed her love and appreciation for her mentor. As the class continued, Akira and her Pretty Big girls filled the room with love and appreciation for each other and for us, their students. The entire experience was spiritually uplifting and we all left with our hearts full and our minds reinforced.

 Akira sat down with us after class and shared some of the secrets to her success in the interview.

Carly: When was your big ah-ha moment to start the group?

Akira: My big aha moment to start Pretty Big actually happened in 2007 when I flew to Los Angeles and I got chosen to be in Beyonce’s two music videos and while I was out there I took advantage of going on auditions and trying to get agencies to represent me being that I just booked a job with Beyonce. Unfortunately, they didn’t know how to market me because I was a lot heavier then than I am now. They just didn’t know what to do with me so that kind of fueled me to start Pretty Big. Because I felt that there was a void in mainstream media, for one, and I didn’t see enough plus sized women in mainstream media dancing behind artists. You may only see one but you’ve never seen a plethora of full figured women, professional plus sized women dancing. So, that fueled me to start the Pretty Big Movement. I started looking and, you know, I held auditions. And it wasn’t successful in the beginning at all. It was a challenge for me. If you think about it, 9 years ago plus size wasn’t popping. You know what I’m saying, it was very rare that you would see a plus size girl dancing. So being that I was from New York, there are a lot of underground showcases that happen. So I made sure I put myself in situations to start looking for girls who possibly were full figured and were interested in coming on this journey with me. It just naturally, organically happened that way. I asked one young lady to join Pretty Big and be a part of my vision and it kinda just took its own course where I started doing my own workshops. I remember my first workshop. I only had 5 people. And I went and spent all this money on refreshments and all this and there were only 5 people. I was so discouraged. I was like this is not gonna work. And just being around positive people, you know, having good people around me who were just like nope. Keep doing it. This is only the first one. Social media, Instagram wasn’t popping back then. So now that technology has advanced, we have all these social media platforms – I started on MySpace.

Carly: Oh wow!

Sasha: So it was like a whole ‘nother game.

Akira: Definitely. I was posting on MySpace and then eventually Facebook. There was no Instagram. There was no Twitter. So over time things started to grow and I was able to get my name out there. That’s pretty much how it started. It gradually grew and I started to gather more women who were on the same page as me. Because you all to have to be on the same page. And there were some challenges. Some members are no longer here. They kind of branched off and did their own things. And that happens. Its apart of being in business. But I am grateful for where Pretty Big is now. It has grown tremendously. And the scene video that went viral in February has catapulted us to this level where you have people like Alvin Ailey calling to partner with you. And what’s so crazy, I had asked them 9 years ago.

Sasha: And someone told me that you were a camp counselor here

Akira: Yes, yes I was. It was Ailey camp. For four years I was a jazz instructor. So this is my home. I went to Alvin Ailey when it was on 66th Street in high school as my dance major. Dance was my major and we came to Alvin Ailey. So this is like home for me. This is where I grew up. This is my roots. So just to come back – that’s why I said life is full circle. You just never know. So I’m grateful. I also substitute here and I am currently a teaching artist through Ailey now. So they know me. They watched me grow which is a good thing. So I love that this is gonna now be our home. When she told me that I said: “Oh, God is good!” Because when we did our workshops in January and February I was paying out of pocket for everything.


Stay tuned for Part II of Akira’s interview with Fit Inspire Health as she shares her vision for the Pretty Big Movement.