Akira Armstrong danced to the beat of her own path and breaks the mold in mainstream dance with her Pretty Big movement dance company.
Performing with Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson and Jazmine Sullivan are just some of highlights of Akira Armstrong’s trailblazing career. The 33-year-old dancer is working to create space for plus-size women in the mainstream dance industry. The South Bronx-native has worked tirelessly to champion this mission. She first began training at the Mind-Builders Creative Arts Center, where she learned and refined techniques in jazz, ballet, modern, hip-hop and Western African dance.
She continued to hone her craft while attending the Professional Performing Arts High School. This School opened many doors for Armstrong, including the opportunity to take classes at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, where today she teaches hip-hop dance. Her passion and talent followed Armstrong to Utica College. She studied public relations and served as president of the dance ensemble, Africa in Motion. As president, Armstrong ensured that she and her fellow peers set time to teach classes to teenagers in the community. This mindfulness and sense of community stuck with Armstrong throughout her career.
A barrier-breaking career
After finishing college, Armstrong performed with several dance companies including Jubilation Dance Company and the Bernice Johnson Dance Company. In 2007, she made her notable music video debut in Beyoncé’s “Get Me Bodied” and “Green Light” videos. Among the thousands who auditioned, choreographers selected Armstrong as a principal dancer in both videos. This choice marked a departure from the typical body type chosen for mainstream music videos. This opportunity led to collaborations with well-known choreographers including Frank Gatson, Rhapsody James and Danielle Polanco.
In 2011, Armstrong began working with legendary hip-hop duo Salt N’ Pepa, not as a dancer however, but as the group’s makeup artist. She took her makeup artistry on the road with Salt N’ Pepa for two years, traveling across the United States and abroad. In 2013, she returned to dance and performed with Jennifer Hudson on BET’s Black Girls Rock. Earlier this year, she performed with Jazmine Sullivan. While these impressive accomplishments mark her career, she has not forgotten to help make these opportunities available for others as well.
Creating space for others
Armstrong’s experience working as a plus-size dancer inspired her to start her own dance company, Pretty BIG Movement. First founded in 2006, Pretty BIG Movement houses ten dancers today. The group has performed at various venues and events including Ladies Of Hip Hop, Carnival, the Ms. Full Figured USA Pageant and the Female Hip Hop Honors. Recently, Pretty BIG Movement competed on Season 10 of America’s Got Talent.
Aside from performing, Pretty BIG Movement holds dance workshops catered to plus-size women. With these workshops, Armstrong and the company seek to create a judgment-free environment where plus-size dancers can feel free to learn, move and express themselves through dance. Armstrong hopes that these sessions will empower plus-size women to realize that their size cannot hold them back in whatever they hope to achieve. Her career, passions and dedication alone are proof of just that.