EastEnders actress Rose Ayling-Ellis became the second deaf dancer on Strictly Come Dancing this week. The British TV competition pairs celebrities with professional ballroom and Latin dancers. The American version is Dancing With the Stars.
The inaugural show was September, 18, 2021. According to the Daily Mail, it attracted 7.2 million viewers, a significant drop from last year’s 8.6 million. The actress received a silent applause from the live audience on Saturday, after performing the Jive with her partner, Giovanni Pernice.
Rose Ayling-Ellis, who plays Frankie Lewis in EastEnders, says she was stunned to be cast on the show, posting on Instagram, “If you had told me one year ago that I would be on Strictly Come Dancing, I would have laughed in your face! I am still pinching myself, it doesn’t seem real.”
“If you had told me one year ago that I would be on Strictly Come Dancing, I would have laughed in your face!”
Ayling-Ellis has an interpreter on the show, and the production team is also doing deaf awareness training and learning sign language. According to The Irish Times, executive producer Sarah James said she and her team have already learned a lot from Ayling-Ellis.
“She’s an amazing person,” James told The Irish Times. “She is also very honest about what she needs and what we need to adapt, so it’s been an ongoing conversation.”
Despite all the media headlines and articles, Ayling-Ellis is not the first deaf contestant to appear on the show. Rugby player Ben Cohen was on the show in 2013, when he met his now wife. Cohen is deaf, with about 30% hearing loss in each ear. He has been involved in efforts to make rugby more accessible for people with hearing loss, especially young deaf players. His hearing loss was often discussed on the show. He was very open about the difficulties it caused him, especially in training.
Like Cohen did before her, Ayling-Ellis will likely help dispel stereotypes about deaf people and music. Like Strictly Come Dancing, Dancing With the Stars has had two deaf contestants as well: Marlee Matlin and Nyle DiMarco. Matlin was the sixth person eliminated, but DiMarco won his season (Season 22, in 2016).
Disability advocate Sarah Adedji said on Instagram, “Deaf people have the same capacity to enjoy music just as the rest of them – if not, then it’s most likely a bigger capacity. We just experience it differently. Rose being a Deaf contestant in a show that’s stereotypically set up to overwhelm the best of us shows that we are much more than capable!”
As for Ayling-Ellis, she told The Guardian that appearing on the show is exciting and a little bit scary, adding, “I hope I will do the deaf community proud and break down more barriers.”