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Full-figured dance group Pretty Big Movement fights size discrimination

‘People judge you based on your size without giving you a chance to prove yourself’

Dancer Akira Armstrong catches the beat, then finds the move to accompany the music in the background. It’s something that comes to her naturally.

Dancing has always been part of Armstrong’s life, from her first time in West African classes to learning western styles such as tap and ballet. But it wasn’t just her passion that inspired her to create a dance company now known as Pretty Big Movement.

It was size discrimination.

Armstrong grew tired of being sidelined because her body didn’t fit the mold of the traditional, slender dance type. She was good at what she did. She was so good that she gained the attention of Beyoncé — yes, Queen Bey herself — and ended up in two of the singer’s videos in 2007.

That’s when Armstrong realized her career could skyrocket, but she’d need a boost. In a video on TheScene.com, Armstrong explained how on her trip to Los Angeles to take part in a Beyoncé video, she visited with dance agencies. But she found “no one would represent me because of my size.”

Armstrong knew if she wanted to succeed, she’d have to construct a way for herself and other full-figured women to express themselves through dance without being judged solely on their size.

America still struggles to represent women of all shapes and sizes.

“When people think of the stereotypical dancer’s body, they think very thin, tall, long legs, long arms,” Armstrong said. “Growing up in a dance environment, I did feel like my body was a negative … People look at you and judge you based on your size … without even giving you a chance to really prove yourself.”

The feelings of discouragement and frustration weren’t enough to keep Armstrong from living out her dreams, and helping other women do the same.

Enter Pretty Big Movement.

Located in New York, the dance studio features predominantly full-figured women with top-notch choreography from hip-hop to jazz. The company is being shown love across social media platforms with nearly 80,000 Facebook followers and several of its dance videos going viral.

The team of seven dancers has performed in a number of events, including Ladies of Hip-Hop, the Ms. Full Figured USA Pageant and in the 10th season NBC’s popular show America’s Got Talent.

As Armstrong’s company successfully shuts down the stereotypes that come along with being full-figured, she continues to gain confidence in herself and hope that body acceptance is being taken more seriously. Now, Armstrong wants all women to feel inspired, confident and encouraged in every aspect of their lives.

“It’s about uplifting and empowering women to feel like they can be confident to do anything, not just dance,” Armstrong said.

Watch the full interview below.

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Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.