Noni Vassos won the For Purpose & Social Enterprise category at the 2019 Telstra South Australian Business Women’s Awards for her work using art to make a difference. She has created Rockit Performing Arts, a centre that uses dance, drama and singing tools to improve the health and wellbeing of her local community. She holds an inspiring story and she shares her five life and business lessons with The Carousel.
I have three young boys, two of whom live with autism, severe speech disorder and sensory disorder. In the early days, I felt quite isolated from the community, as people struggled to understand our situation. I felt the boy’s therapists were always trying to change them to ensure they could fit into this world.
I grew tired of trying to change my boys, and instead made a decision to change the environment around them, hoping to educate the community to be more accepting of difference.
This is when I decided to create Rockit Performing Arts, a studio that offers a range of weekly classes infused with new teaching methodologies. We weave in positive and preventative mental health lessons, along with opportunities for students to experience ‘difference learning’. We’re increasing the acceptance and understanding of it, which is such an empowering outcome.
We work hard to ensure our community understands that the students in our classes with disabilities have equal value and in fact make our studio a more interesting place to be. In 2017, our Diversity Dance Company (dancers aged 13 to 30 with and without disabilities) collaborated with the adult dance class to produce ‘Say Something’. It was a four-month research project into mental health issues and how they affect individuals, families and the local community.
This has been a tough journey. One I have questioned often because we are so out of the box with our methodologies. In the tough times, all I need to do is think of the incredible families I have worked with and remember the change I have seen in my students. Their glowing faces and chests filled with pride give me the strength to carry on and challenge me to continue offering greater opportunities for them.
This has been an incredible journey in my life, one that has seen me grow as an individual. Along the way I have learnt some very valuable lessons:
- Look at Life from a Different Perspective – Too many people with disabilities are dismissed or placed in the ‘too difficult’ basket. I encourage people to look beneath the surface and discover the beauty that lies within.
- Think Outside the Box – In every strategy I engage in, I push the boundaries and challenge myself and my staff to think outside the box. This includes the way Rockit is managed, but more importantly the educational methods we use to work with such a wide array of people and personalities.
- Believe in Yourself – When you go off path and try something new, there is no one else to follow. It is imperative to learn how to trust in yourself.
- Never Give Up – on your toughest days, always remember why you do this. Pick yourself up and keep going.
- Breaking the Rules Can Be Fun – I spent my life learning all the rules within my industry. Now I take great pride in breaking each of them to create something new that is able to provide for a large section of the community that has never been serviced in such a way.
Noni Vassos, Rockit Performing Arts
Noni Vassos has devoted her life to performance and creativity. Working the majority of her adult life in theatre management, Noni cultivated teaching abilities that could be used for the greater good. Now as the Founder of Rockit Performing Arts, she teaches dance and drama to improve health in the community. As well as weekly classes, Rockit also offers tailored educational programs, heartfelt performances and community events that carry underlying messages of inclusion and acceptance. As the mother of two children with autism, Noni has used her experience to provide a safe place to help children cope with sensory disorders, teenagers with anxiety, and even nursing home residents with dementia. Noni was the 2019 Telstra South Australian Business Women’s For Purpose & Social Enterprise Award winner.