If you’ve been following Strictly Come Dancing this year, you can’t help but to have been thrilled by the progress of Rose Ayling-Ellis a Deaf actress who plays ‘Frankie’ on Eastenders, and her professional dance partner Giovanni Pernice. Well last night was the Strictly Come Dancing final! [Spoiler alert: the result is mentioned and featured in this blog post]
Having wowed audiences throughout the series with some spectacular dances, Rose and Gio faced another couple in the final that the nation had also taken to their hearts, same sex couple John and Johannes. Sadly, the third couple that should have been in the final, AJ and Kai, were unable to take part due to AJ injuring her ankle during training.
Being Deaf, Rose cannot hear the music, and has done an amazing job in raising Deaf awareness as well as helping people to understand how she can dance if she can’t hear. A combination of feeling the beat of the music through vibrations in the floor, counting, prompting from Gio, and of course lots and lots of practice has helped Rose to keep in time with the music and produce some sensational performances.
But there is another thing that Rose has taught the nation too… that she is an absolutely brilliant dancer and that being Deaf doesn’t stop her from being amazing at all the different dances that she has learned with Gio. So good was Rose that following three stunning dances in the final, scoring an overall 119/120 and having received the largest share of the public vote, Rose and Gio won Strictly Come Dancing 2021 and lifted the famous glitter ball!
It was a well-deserved win, she was the best dancer throughout a series which has included several dancers that would have been worthy winners and more maximum scores of 40/40 than ever before.
In representing the Deaf community, and disabled people more widely, so well throughout the series, Rose has been the catalyst for a 3,000% increase in people leaning British Sign Language (BSL). Having taught Gio to sign, and with her own BSL Interpreter prominent when Rose was receiving comments from the judges etc. she has inspired the nation to learn more than ‘thank you’ and ‘applause’, which the rest of the Strictly team quickly adopted.
Russell Fowler, director of the website BSL Courses, says there are always “spikes” in people signing up to learn sign language following new episodes of Strictly. “On one Saturday we had over 1,000 and another time we received 778,” he said. Prior to Strictly, they averaged just 20-30 enrolments a day.
Rose and Gio have made a big impact; in championing inclusion this year they, and the programme as a whole, have showcased that people can be naturally gifted at dancing (or anything else) and can also be Deaf. It has gone a long way to dispel the myth that Deaf people, or the disability community more widely, are ‘victims’ or ‘charity cases’ that should be sympathised with and treated as if they can’t do things for themselves.
Asked how great it’s been to be able to spread awareness as the show’s first Deaf contestant, Rose said “It’s amazing, when I was a child, I never grew up seeing anyone like me on telly.”
“It could be a really isolating place for a Deaf person, so I feel like if being on Strictly can change somebody’s life, it can happen – because there are some parents out there with a Deaf child and they’re like, “Oh, what do I do?” Then they see me on the telly and think, “Oh it’s not that bad, they can actually do what a hearing child can do.” That’s why I feel really good doing that.”
No-one can forget the amazing dance where the music stopped for 20 seconds, the soundtrack replaced by the near silence which is all Rose can hear. It was an utterly breath-taking moment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QejOzrlovTQ
Or the dances where Rose and Gio have signed to each other as part of their routine, once again giving wonderful representation to the Deaf community: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtSbTTzS1JA
Rose is a gifted actress, she is a truly incredible dancer, and she is Deaf. What she has communicated to the world is that a disability or difference shouldn’t be a barrier to someone following their dreams, their talents and abilities, and being amazing at them!
And the challenge her performance gives us all is to strive to be the very best that we can be, to continue to break down barriers, to never let other people’s negative views hold us back, to know how amazing every one of us is and to give it all we’ve got!
Thanks Rose and Gio, and… ‘keep dancing!’