#0021 Nadia Virasamy of Moving into Dance

The Civitas Team

17 ideas on the difficulties of being an NPO in the dance industry, showing kindness to your employees, and handling downsizing.

Moving into Dance was established in 1978 by its founders, Sylvia Glasser, who essentially saw a need for training and education among black youth at the height of apartheid. She had a

dance anthropology background and was very interested in African movement and African

contemporary dance. The premise of the Moving Into Dance is to audition youth from highly impoverished backgrounds across the country and train them in dance and associated skills. Then, these individuals can go back to their communities to establish businesses and other training platforms.

Nadia Virasamy wasn’t part of the journey until 2005. Coming from an academic background, she taught sociology and industrial management at the University of Natal in Durban. After spending a few years in the music industry as an artist manager, she realized that her true passion was still in education.

Starting as the director of education, Nadia has since ‘climbed the ladder’ and became the chief executive.

Civitas team member, Ryan, had an interesting discussion with Nadia about the staff-employer relationship and how that affects the business overall.

Summary of the best ideas from the discussion:

  • As the CEO of an NPO, you will have to go beyond your job description and multitask.
  • Kindness is everything. Be kind to your staff, understand their background and needs.
  • Combine passion with professionalism and structure.
  • Be prepared to make hard decisions during financial burdens, even if you have to downsize the team.

Product-market fit

  1. “People don’t just pay for arts, sadly. So, we incorporate our performances into corporate events, functions, and festivals.”

Business compliance

  1. “Passion is fundamental for feeding your creative drive” but it is also important to formalize structures and make it more business-like. This includes marketing, PR, policies, and procedures.
  2. Ensure your business itself has all the HR protocol in place and that it could pretty much stand up against any other business.
  3. “It is important to have policies and procedures in place, but you should sit down with your staff and discuss those with them to make sure everyone is on the same page”.


  1. “I like a lot of the Warren Buffet quotes. For example, if you are looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. If you don’t find the first, the other two will kill you.”

How to treat staff (with kindness)

  1. “As an art manager, I’ve learned that kindness goes a long way in terms of management.”
  2. “Be kind to your staff and give them an ear to understand their needs.” This helps to resolve conflicts much more quickly.
  3. “It is important to have policies and procedures in place, but you should sit down with your staff and discuss those with them to make sure everyone is on the same page”.
  4. “Allocate time to your team even if you have managers run certain aspects of your business. Sometimes it can just be taking your lunch and sitting with them for a casual chat.”
  5. “Get to know the background of your team. That way, if something goes wrong, you know what the circumstances are and who can solve the problem in the best way possible.”
  6. “If serving is beneath you, then leading is beyond you.” Build a two-way trust and loyalty within your team and always have their best interests at heart.
  7. Build a structure where people feel comfortable and they want to associate with each other to the level that they want to make plans to hang out on the weekend.

Challenges of being an NPO chief executive

  1. “If you are in a non-profit organization, be prepared to multitask and have tasks outside your job description.”
  2. In the NPO industry, it is always about chasing the next project, chasing the next amount of funding.
  3. “Having a supportive board can be super-helpful at times of hardships."

Challenges of being an NPO chief executive

  1. “In a case of financial difficulties, you might have to make hardcore business decisions to survive.” This could include downsizing staff if necessary. You can’t think with your heart for too long. Necessary decisions are often not easy decisions
  2. “While it is important to leave the emotion out of it, it is imperative to take a bit of your heart into the conversation.” Explore all angles before having a conversation.

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