Looking back on her traumatic exit from Dance Moms, Ava Cota wouldn't change a thing.
The former member of Abby Lee Miller's Select Ensemble first appeared on the reality series in season 3, but left the show suddenly when she was cut from the team for being what Miller deemed as "too tall."
Now, at 16 and 6 feet tall, Cota has taken the negatives of her reality show experience and turned them into the motivation for her body positive, anti-bullying social media movement, dance career, modeling experience, new EP and AVA x JMS clothing line with designer Jonathan Marc Stein, she told PopCulture.
Looking back on her time being eliminated from the Dance Moms cast, Cota felt "like the world was ending," but said her strong ties with her mother got her through the rejection and subsequent cyberbullying she experienced.
"I honestly wouldn't change it for the world," she told PopCulture, adding, "Honestly, I don't think I would be even close to the person I am without that experience. It has made me, for one, such a strong person. Because now I can literally take anything, anyone yelling at me. Growing up and just going to dance competitions is nerve wracking, but then I had the extra pressure of having cameras in front of me and having Abby Lee Miller sitting in the audience and then knowing that there were millions of people watching me. It helped with so much of my dancing; just learning and picking up choreography or learning how to perform under an immense amount of pressure. It really did help me. But also, grow and not take everything that someone says and learn how to come out of that a stronger person. It really taught me how to do that at a very young age."
Learning to love herself as a taller-than-average dancer, especially one being filmed in a leotard or crop top during her formative years, also helped her develop insight into the negativity that exists on social media, pushing her to express herself as a model, singer and fashion designer.
"It was really, really, really difficult. I think my thing is, is that a lot of people could block out the haters, but I personally think as a human being, blocking out any negative thing that anyone is saying is pretty much impossible," she told PopCulture. "No matter what, we are going to take it and we're going to hear it. I think my thing going through it and now that I can recognize after the experience was just finding self love and love for myself. Just surrounding myself with people who encouraged me and helped me go farther and don't try to hold me back. I think that self love is my message that I'm trying to spread."
It even inspired her #13Reasons4Me social media movement, which she first started on YouTube as a way to combat negativity spread online. In the video, she encourages her followers to film themselves listing 13 reasons why they love themselves and their lives, inspired by the controversial Netflix series (and book) 13 Reasons Why.0comments
"I really want to get a positive message on social media, because all these shootings that are happening and all these actions of hate, it's like, 'What is going on?'" she explained. "No other country has this, so there has to be something. So again, it comes back to that saying, 'Stop focusing on the things that we don't like or the things that are going wrong in our lives' and just realize the people that we love around us and the things that we're doing that makes us happy and the things that we want for ourselves. Because it's really, really important for us to focus on those and I think we would be a lot more loving society and happier."
Photo credit: Courtesy of Ava Cota