Rose Ayling-Ellis is incredibly bubbly for a nine o’clock interview on a Monday morning. We are her penultimate chat, the EastEnders actress tells Metro.co.uk, before it’s back to rehearsals for the first live show of this year’s Strictly Come Dancing on Saturday.
The conversation follows last weekend’s launch episode, where it was revealed that Italian professional dancer Giovanni Pernice would be Rose’s dance partner.
‘I’m learning a lot in rehearsals and Giovanni is very pushy,’ says the Deaf actress, ‘but it’s really good because it means I have improved a lot in a short time. So, I’ve got a good teacher and I’ve learnt a lot and I am enjoying every minute of it.’
Even through all the aches and pains, which fans were given a little insight into when Giovanni shared a snap of his celebrity’s red, blistered feet ahead of Saturday’s show.
‘Oh my God, those feet,’Rose says when we mention the teaser. ‘It looks like [something] from The Walking Dead.
‘It’s so painful but I have to ignore the pain and just go through the heels. I know, apparently, the first eight weeks are the most painful for your feet and it becomes another layer of skin,’ she explains, joking about what they’ll look like come week nine.
Though for the first week of the contest, Rose will perform the jive, which she says is obviously one of the hardest dances to do.
‘There’s a lot of jumping, lots of kicks and stuff,’ she explains, ‘but we have a mirror in the rehearsal room. The mirror really helps to see what I’m doing, and Giovanni always explains stuff.
‘He’s very physical, which means he’s visual,’ Rose adds, ‘and I have interpreters with me as well. But because dance is so physical and so visual, I just watch him and copy him. It works really well.’
And it’s Giovanni’s visual approach which helps with picking up sign language too, which Rose uses alongside spoken English. ‘His Deaf awareness is really, really good,’ she says. ‘He’s picked it up so quickly, and normally, when you meet people, it takes time to eventually process, but he got it quick.
‘I think it’s because he’s a professional dancer, so he’s always been very visual anyway,’ she continues, ‘and I think also, he’s Italian, that helps as well. Italian’s very visual and expressive, and he always looks at me in the face. He’s not afraid to ask me questions and makes sure everything’s clear to me.’
The dancing pro isn’t the only one making Strictly accessible, either, with executive producer Sarah James confirming to BBC News that all of the team have taken deaf awareness training and are learning sign language.
‘On my first day, I came here, the boss bought everyone a clear mask, and everyone wore [one],’ Rose adds. ‘A lot of people came up to me spelling their name, and it’s like, ‘this is amazing, this is what it should be, I love it’.’
Her fellow celebrities have also taken steps towards making things more inclusive too, as the EastEnders star has encouraged her competitors to add captions to their rehearsal videos on Instagram.
‘We did a WhatsApp group for all the celebrities on it, and I’m that WhatsApp group,’ Rose explains, a group chat set up by BBC Breakfast’s Dan Walker which she later describes as a ‘big secret’ with a finger to her lips. ‘Then I sent them a video explaining how to put the captions on, and a lot of them didn’t know it was there in the first place. They realised, “oh, it’s so simple, it’s so easy” and now they love it.’
It isn’t just others’ excitement around accessibility which has caught Rose’s eye, as the actress also has an idea of who will be her biggest competition in the contest.
‘Oh, I think Rhys Stephenson,’ she says. ‘He’s got so much energy. He’s like, really going for it, and I’m like, ‘whoa!’ Because you need a lot of energy to dance, definitely. Rhys is a really lovely person, as well.”
Wherever Rose finishes this series, she’ll be cheered on by the UK Deaf community, as the actress is the first Deaf person to appear on the BBC programme.
It’s a response which she says has been so positive. ‘I think what helped was Casualty had seven deaf people after Strictly, so it was quite a big moment for the Deaf community, and also to see lots of different diversity,’ she tells Metro.co.uk. ‘So, you’ve got a Deaf person that speaks, you’ve got a Deaf person that signs, you’ve got a Deaf person that does both. I think it was a big moment for the Deaf community. Hopefully, it’ll carry on.’
Even at this early stage, it’s clear that Rose has been changing attitudes behind the scenes. ‘Obviously, for the launch show recently, last year and the year before, it always had live subtitles, even when it’s been recorded,’ she recalls. ‘So I mentioned that to them and they realised that, so they’re like, “okay, we’ll change the subtitles.”
Her passion for inclusivity is infectious, squeezing her fists with joy as someone off-camera tells her that Strictly episodes will come with British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation on iPlayer a few days after broadcast.
I’m so happy, it means I can watch myself
‘I’m happy,’ Rose beams. ‘It means I can watch it. It means I can watch myself. I can’t watch it with live subtitles.’
While she is the first Deaf contestant on Strictly, Rose isn’t the first to put on her dancing shoes. Fellow Deaf actors Marlee Matlin and Nyle DiMarco both appeared on the US version, Dancing with the Stars, with DiMarco crowned winner in the 22nd season.
Despite the success of her US colleagues, Rose says she isn’t feeling the pressure to match it. ‘We all go through our own different experiences and journey,’ she explains, ‘and I’m just focusing on enjoying myself, working hard and embracing the full experience’.
Strictly Come Dancing returns to BBC One tomorrow at 7pm.
Credit: Original article published here.