By Megan Voo
Rockit takes centre stage in Mount Barker, a performing arts school set out to make a difference.
Noni Vassos, Rockit Performing Arts’ Director, also known as the ‘dance whisperer’, has created something for the local community to cherish. The mother of three children, two of whom live with autism, sensory disorder and severe speech disorder, says the experience has changed her life for the better and given her a greater understanding of how families feel within their own communities.
Recognising the impact of feeling isolated, and in an endeavour to improve the health of her surrounding communities, Noni first started dance classes in Echunga following requests from people looking for something active to engage their youth.
Noni’s degree in dance and experience with her children became the perfect tools to create a space of inclusion where dance acts as a form of expression. She integrated social skills training and lateral thinking exercises in her classes, which showed outstanding results for students with and without disabilities.
After rapid growth in numbers, Rockit Performing Arts expanded with classes in Aldgate, Verdun and Nairne. Finding it cumbersome to transport specialised equipment between locations, Noni applied for a grant via the Primary Industries of South Australia’s campaign Fund My Idea. Competing against over 80 other applications in the Adelaide Hills region alone, she won funding to open a centralised studio in Mount Barker. The grant paid for specialised training equipment like a fully sprung dance floor, ballet barres, sensory swings and tumbling mats.
Noni now works closely with the local council to tackle issues affecting the community. With the youth of Mount Barker facing the highest statistics of unemployment, homelessness, methamphetamine use and suicide, Noni works on preventative methods like working mental health exercises into her classes.
“These programs turn so many lives around. Rockit has seen students come into the studio as self-harmers with low self-esteem, but with time and encouragement they start to discover who they are and what they are capable of,” Noni says.
“We work very hard to instil values into our students of all ages. This includes respect, inclusion, identity and progression. There are so many success stories coming out of the studio,” says Noni. “One thing that melted my heart was when an Austism Spectrum Disorder student said that her favourite part of class was the fact that other students let her be friends with them.”
Rockit’s classes allow students of all levels to participate where the more advanced students are still growing and the learners can still participate and improve. With eight teachers in the school all with tertiary training in their area as well as varied backgrounds with disabilities and social work, Noni’s staff all bring something unique to the team.
Rockit Performing Arts has evolved into so much more than a dance school. Teaching students from as early as three years old to having students in their late nineties, Rockit represents a place of inclusivity for those with and without disabilities of all ages.
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