'Pretty Big Movement' Takes On Dance Company Stereotypes
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Watch any music video, any ballet performance or pretty much any professional dance recital, and you're going to notice all the dancers are cut from a certain type of figure - thin, tall, long legs, long arms. That's how dancer Akira Armstrong describes those dancers. Armstrong isn't one of them, though, and she's giving that stereotype a swift high kick in the tutu.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
AKIRA ARMSTRONG: So I flew Los Angeles to be in a music video with Beyonce. And while I was there, I wanted to get representation from a dance agency so that I could book more jobs. And no one would represent me because of my size. I want to be the pioneer for plus-size women (laughter).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Akira Armstrong talking about her dance company Pretty Big Movement, a company for women with curves. She joins us now from our studios in New York. Thanks so much for being here.
ARMSTRONG: It's me. It's Akira.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: It is you. And I'm really pleased you could join us. So many dancers would love to book a Beyonce video (laughter).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, I mean...
ARMSTRONG: Who wouldn't? Beyonce?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, Beyonce - I mean, I'd like to be in a Beyonce video.
ARMSTRONG: Who wouldn't? Who wouldn't (laughter)?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what was it like to be in two of them?
ARMSTRONG: Oh, just to be in the same space with Beyonce was just enough for me, you know? Along with that, just learning the choreography for the video and being around so many other talented dancers, I...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Were you surprised, though, as a woman with curves that they would call you?
ARMSTRONG: Oh, I was shocked. During the audition process, I was even shocked that I was even chosen to be in a video with Beyonce. Are you kidding me?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is it different being a plus-size dancer? Do you have to choreograph your moves differently?
ARMSTRONG: Yes. When people look at a full-figured girl, automatically they just think, they can't do. But there are lot of plus-sized people that can really dance and move. I mean, you have to know your body as a dancer. You have to know how to transfer your weight. Of course, you know, being a woman of my aesthetic, I know my body. I know what I'm capable of doing. So you just have to be comfortable in your own skin.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What kind of reaction are you getting? I mean, it's going viral, but what have been the reactions from people?
ARMSTRONG: The reaction is you have inspired me so much. I have given up as - being a dancer. I've gotten testimonies coming my way. And I'm just so grateful. I'm just speechless.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: When you were on this journey before you got to where you are right now, were there moments that you just felt really discouraged? Like...
ARMSTRONG: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...This was never going to happen?
ARMSTRONG: To be honest with you, a year ago, my mom had suffered a stroke and a brain aneurysm...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm sorry.
ARMSTRONG: ...And she was in a coma for about three months. I couldn't talk to her. I, you know, didn't know if she was going to make it. So I know if it would've went the other way - because thank God, my mom is still here with us today - she would have never wanted me to give up.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think society kind of bombards us with these images of perfection constantly, especially women?
ARMSTRONG: Yes, they do. It becomes very discouraging when you want to take on the role of being a dancer and you're not the carbon copy body type as a dancer. So a lot of people get discouraged. We need to see more images of the everyday woman. And that's what Pretty Big is. You - a lot of the women in my company are - they look like the average woman walking down the street here - right here on 42nd Street, you know? I think we are so relatable to so many people, which is why the video did go viral.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Akira Armstrong, CEO and founder of Pretty Big Movement. Thanks so much for joining us.
ARMSTRONG: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET ME BODIED")
BEYONCE: (Singing) Can you get me bodied? I want to be myself tonight. Can you get me bodied? I want to be myself tonight. Don't you...
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