Dance is a visual medium that is often dominated by one aesthetic: skinny, tall and often Caucasian. These two women have been selected as this week’s Terpsichorean heroes because they have used their unique platforms to encourage the world to think past these stereotypes and to inspire people of all races, ages and body types to dance and be proud of the way they look.
Akira Armstrong Doesn’t take “No” For an Answer
“I want to be the pioneer of plus-sized women…When they see us perform, I want them to feel inspired. I want them to be blown away. I want the little girl who’s watching to be like, ‘Look mom, I can do that too. Look at those big girls up there with afros on,'”-Akira Armstrong, The Scene
After being featured in Beyoncé Knowles’ music videos for her songs “Get Me Bodied” and “Greenlight,” Akira Armstrong found herself unable to find an L.A. agent to represent her because of her size. Having dealt with body shaming throughout her entire dance career, this wasn’t unfamiliar territory for the dancer who has also attended the Ailey School and danced with the Bernice Johnson Dance Company. “I couldn’t fit [into] costumes, and my costume was always different from everyone else’s…Family members used to make fun of me…It was frustrating,” she said in an interview for The Scene.
Undeterred, Armstrong founded Pretty Big Movement, a plus-sized dance company that is based out of New York. The company’s style ranges from hip-hop, to jazz, to ethnic and they have already made quite a bit of noise. The company competed on season 10 of America’s Got Talent, have performed with Salt ‘N Pepa and also paid tribute to Black Lives Matter with their concept video “Personally.” The company also gives classes and workshops all around New York. After years of being told “no,” Armstrong hopes to use her company to affirm women. “It’s about uplifting and empowering women to feel like they can become and do anything, not just dance.”
Aesha Ash and the Power of Imagery
” I want to help change the demoralized, objectified and caricatured images of African-American women by showing the world that beauty is not reserved for any particular race or socio-economic background. I wish for this message to infuse the ballet world and project to the entire world.”-Aesha Ash, The Swan Dreams Project
In a recent profile for Dance Magazine, Aesha Ash, a former New York City Ballet Dancer, recounted how she used to be judged for her appearance as a young Black girl growing up in Rochester, NY. “They’d never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she’s going to make it into New York City Ballet,” she says.
Now, the mother of two uses her career as a dancer to change the image of Black women and motivate others with her campaign called The Swan Dreams Project. The Swan Dreams project seeks to debunk and counter the caricatures and stereotypes that often plague Black women by broadening the definition of beauty. It also seeks to increase awareness and support of the dance world. The original idea was for Ash to post images of herself in a tutu all over her hometown. However after realizing how expensive larger scale ads could be, Ash created an Etsy store and began selling her images there. Ash will also often give away images free of charge to schools and students. Ash also plans to start teaching free after school ballet classes at her daughter’s school in San Jose, Calif. “I want to show it’s okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we’re multidimensional.”