The battle for glitterball glory is well underway as smash-hit TV show Strictly Come Dancing enters its fifth week.
Now in its 19th series, this year’s Strictly has seen two firsts for the show.
Celebrity chef John Whaite and Johannes Radebe are the first male couple to be featured, and EastEnders actor Rose-Ayling-Ellis has made Strictly history as the show’s first deaf contestant.
Twenty-six-year-old Rose is best known to soap fans as Frankie Lewis in EastEnders, where she was also the first deaf character to appear in the soap.
Rose is also currently the bookies favourite to win Strictly alongside her professional dancing partner Giovanni Pernice.
Aside from her continued success on the dance floor, Rose’s appearance on the show is also proving to be inspiring to members of the Deaf community.
Jane Shann is the assistant principal at Exmouth’s Deaf Academy, where’s she’s been in post for a year, but she has 30 years of experience teaching Deaf children and young people.
She was born deaf and is also trained in dance, so Jane is delighted to see Rose appearing on the show.
“I think Rose Ayling-Ellis is truly an inspiring role model,” said Jane.
She said Rose is helping to change perceptions and show Deaf children, young people and their parents about breaking down barriers and achieving their dreams.
Jane said: “There are Deaf children all over the country who may not have thought they could be a dancer, but now feel inspired to try dancing because they have seen Rose Ayling-Ellis.
“Rose is proof Deaf people can achieve anything hearing people can.
“Deafness is an invisible disability – you can’t spot a deaf person easily unless they are using sign language – so it is easy to feel isolated and invisible.
“Deaf children need to see celebrities and public representatives living with deafness because this ensures they have positive role models that they can identify with, who inspire them to believe in themselves and go on to do great things.
“I think the hearing world can often underestimate what Deaf people can do. We find ways around barriers that people put in front of us.
“Rose is a shining example of someone who has, by her presence on Strictly Come Dancing, broken down the perception that Deaf people can’t dance because they can’t hear.
“Being deaf doesn’t stop people achieving their dreams – it is usually other people who assume that something can’t be done when usually there is a solution at hand if people believe they can achieve.”
Jane said music has always been a significant part of her life, and she was actively encouraged to engage with it by her family.
“I was lucky to grow up in an artistic family where music and dance quickly became an enormous part of my life,” she said.
“My grandparents were musical and would encourage me to play the piano and join in with music.
“My mother introduced me to dance early on, at the age of three, involving me in dance with music that contained strong bass and drum beats so that I could sense and feel the music around me.
“She was a professional ballet dancer, so I grew up learning steps to traditional ballets, inspiring me to study for an honours degree in music and dance at London University, where I played a variety of instruments including piano, clarinet and saxophone.”
Jane said music and dance is a brilliant way for Deaf people to feel included within society and to express themselves.
“Music and dance enables Deaf young people to be part of a wider community,” she said.
“A community where we don’t need to talk, where we can communicate through movement, expressing ourselves in a medium other than speech.
“We can communicate our thoughts and our feelings through the movement of our bodies, just like sign language, but in a whole-body way.
“There are so many ways of experiencing music through senses other than hearing, including standing by speakers, dancing barefoot to feel the vibrations, watching other dancers or watching interpreters at music events.
“We don’t need to physically hear the music because we can sense and feel the vibrations of music within us and see it with our eyes.
“Growing up as a child with deafness, I couldn’t hear music when there were no bass notes. I relied on watching the other dancers to determine what the beat was.
“This helped me develop a strong sense of internal rhythm and enjoy dancing with others, but there were definitely occasions where I would be enjoying myself too much, forget to watch the dancers and would carry on dancing after the music had ended.
“I have been fortunate to continue dancing in one form or another throughout my life, focusing now on community dancing with other people.”