The EastEnders actor discusses representation, harmful myths, and her glitterball ambitions ahead of becoming Strictly Come Dancing’s first deaf contestant
Rose Ayling-Ellis is making history – and learning to jive. “It’s a lot of jumping off the ground, I’m going to be so out of breath!”, says the actor, who will be the first ever deaf contestant on Strictly Come Dancing when it returns this weekend. She has some fears ahead of the return of the dance contest, namely the upcoming tango, and the shoes she is currently practising in. She holds them up to the camera. “Look!” she says. “It’s so bendy, it’s like paper on a heel.”
When the 26-year-old was announced as a contestant on the BBC series in August it felt momentous, not least because many still believe the harmful myth that deaf people cannot enjoy music or dance. Attending gigs with friends, Ayling-Ellis has met hearing people who thought it was pointless for her to be there. “They think we hear nothing,” she says. “But hearing stuff isn’t just about hearing stuff in your ear. It’s also visual, you watch the show, you feel it as well.” She regularly blasts soul music, Dolly Parton and Stevie Wonder in her car, and took hip-hop and ballet dance classes as a child. An experiment with the recorder was less successful: “I played so badly my mum banned me from practising at home,” she laughs.