Rose Ayling-Ellis is best known for her role as Frankie Lewis on the long-running soap opera EastEnders, which she joined back in May 2020. In reaction to the announcement she has said that “to be the first deaf contestant on Strictly Come Dancing is sooooo exciting... and a little bit scary. It is the hardest secret I have ever had to keep so it feels amazing to finally have this out in the open!”
The full line-up for Strictly 2021 was announced recently with participants such as comedian Robert Webb and McFly’s Tom Fletcher. It is due to launch this Saturday with a prerecorded show introducing the guests and pairing them with their professional partners.
Ayling-Ellis went on to say that she “can’t wait to be taught how to dance at a professional level at Strictly”, after emphasising that each individual deaf person has their own unique way of experiencing music.
It is a common misconception that deaf people are unable to engage with music. In fact, this stereotype has a harmful impact on the inclusivity of live music. For Ayling-Ellis, the use of a hearing aid allows her to pick up some of the music and she is able to hear the beat. She, like many others with hearing impairments, is able to feel the vibrations caused by music through the floor or close to the speakers. Ayling-Ellis has also explained that her professional partner will assist in keeping her on time, stating that: “I will be focusing on reading my partner's body language plus counting in my head, which will help me with timing. So for me it's a combination of everything.”
Ayling-Ellis explains that a large part of her decision to accept a place on the popular celebrity dance show was the attention this would generate towards the relationship between deaf people and music. She explains that “a lot of people think that deaf people can’t hear the music, enjoy the music, and enjoy dancing. So I thought it would be a good platform for me to break that stereotype.”
The producers and the crew for Strictly have taken inclusivity measures this year, including the hiring of a BSL interpreter and the deployment of a deafness awareness course for the benefit of team members.
Studies have shown that up to 73% of deaf people have felt discriminated against when trying to book access to concerts or music festivals, demonstrating a clear mandate for more inclusive practices for live music events.
New technologies such as vibrotactile shakers can be used to bolster the enjoyment of live music for deaf people as they are designed to emphasise vibrations in sound, rather than just the sound itself. The deafness charity Attitude is Everything is the preeminent campaigning group in the UK for audio inclusivity in live music.
With such a high-profile music/dance based event taking place in the coming weeks, many hope that Ayling-Ellis’ inclusion on Strictly will exert positive change on the social perception of deaf people and music.