NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Thursday, September 17, 2015, 2:00 AM
From left, dancers Shareem Newman, Sonia Allen and Zenobia Rogers rehearsing at the Harlem YMCA
They began as a dance troupe to celebrate large and in-charge women — and now they’re taking to the streets for the greater good.
Pretty Big Movement, seven big women who seamlessly blend African dance with hip hop, plan to stage a protest dance for Black Lives Matter this month. They’ll perform in front of a police precinct down the street from where they rehearse at the Harlem YMCA.
“It’s not just males in terms of police brutality,” says Akira Armstrong, who founded the group seven years ago.
She describes the natural leap the troupe took, from showing that dancers come in all sizes to using the power of dance for social change.
“Know who you are,” Armstrong says. “Know you are right and what you stand for as a woman and know you are powerful.”
From left, Teece Camacho, Shareem Newman, founder Akira Armstrong, Sonia Allen, Zenobia Rogers, and Ming Dunn
Michael Brown, Walter Scott and Eric Garner jump to mind as high-profile cases. But Armstrong cites the case of Sandra Bland to show it’s not just men suffering from police brutality.
The dancers use their talent as part of a larger conversation. Like all dancers, they move with music because they must. They dance at home when no one is watching, or at a bus stop where anyone can. “You have to be full-figured, curvy, to be in Pretty Big, because that’s what this movement is about, empowering women to know that through the art of dance, you can be who you want to be,”
The group was part of a Lane Bryant campaign, “I’m No Angel,” dancing in a flash mob with Salt-N-Pepa. And they made it through two rounds in the latest season of “America’s Got Talent.”
The members range in age from 24 to 32; they have day jobs and varying levels of training. To join, a woman “has to know who she is, be will confident,” Armstrong says. “Personality is key.”
That personality is evident as they dance, even if only one has had a taste of the big time.
Armstrong, 32, danced backup for Beyoncé in two videos and did makeup for Salt-N-Pepa. She works as a makeup artist but wants to take Pretty Big Movement on tour. She hopes to conduct discussions with young people and start a summer camp.
Tonight she leads the women through their paces. Sonia Allen suggests a change in arm placement, which is instantly incorporated. Allen and Armstrong have worked together from the beginning. Armstrong starts a step, Allen finishes it.
“I was always a big, fat kid,” Allen, 31, says. Yet she always danced. As director of youth and family programming at the Harlem YMCA and mother of a 1-year-old, Allen has little free time. But she’s here Tuesdays and Thursdays. “It’s my priority,” she says. “It feeds my passion. We all share this being thicker than a Snicker, but we can dance. It’s not that we are big and can dance. It’s we can dance and are big.”
“AGT” gave them a taste of haters. “It hits a nerve,” Allen admits. “We do self-soothing and we say we love each other and think about the bigger picture here, because we have that sisterhood.”
That sisterhood is a group of black women plus Letticia (Teece) Camacho, a Puerto Rican from Brooklyn. “In the beginning, I felt there was pressure because I do stand out esthetically, but then I thought it was my responsibility to be the voice for the Latinos in the community,” says Camacho, 25.
Ultimately, Armstrong hopes, “This will be our 9 to 5. Before I leave this earth, I want to make sure I made an impact on someone’s life, to inspire the next generation.”