Rose Ayling-Ellis, the British actress who rocks disability clichés

LETTER FROM LONDON

Nothing like a great story to distract the British from the Omicron wave. Millions of them rocked (and probably a little cried) thanks to the nineteenth season of the “Strictly Come Dancing” dance competition and its climactic finale on December 18 which crowned Rose Ayling-Ellis. This 27-year-old young woman, deaf from birth, taught them a lesson in tenacity and hope. Its popular success also shows how disability is now accepted and even valued across the Channel, at least in the media.

“Strictly Come Dancing” is one of the BBC’s flagship programs. Broadcast on Saturday evening, it pits couples made up of a professional and an amateur performing tango, cha-cha-cha or salsa on a sparkling dance floor. Small screen stars and even politicians clashed in this family program to win the trophy – a mirror ball mounted on a stand. Among the memorable moments, the magnetic finale of Caroline Flack, the presenter of the reality TV series “Love Island” in 2014 (she sadly ended her life in 2020) or the interpretation of the Korean hit Gangnam Style by ex-Labor MP Ed Ball in 2016.

Ed Ball had quite a presence on the dance floor and it lasted until week ten of season fourteenth, but objectively danced much worse than Rose Ayling-Ellis, who stood out for her grace and incredible expressiveness. Raised by a mother who refused to let her handicap deprive her of her dreams, this radiant young woman trained in the theater thanks to a passage by the London company Deafinitely Theater (mixing sign language and spoken language), has chained the experiences on boards and in the movies, and was even recruited in 2020 to play the character of Frankie Lewis in the popular series EastEnders.

Rose Ayling-Ellis was able to overcome her handicap so well that it was impossible to guess that she heard hardly any music – she is the first deaf participant in “Strictly Come Dancing”. Her partner, professional dancer Giovanni Pernice, learned sign language and had to adapt the workouts to help her memorize the choreography. “I find my way through rhythm and counting, she told the BBC. I have a hearing aid (…). I can pick up the rhythm, perceive the vibrations and hear someone singing, but I can’t make out the lyrics. ”

Very demanding rehearsals for a bluffing result: Rose Ayling-Ellis and Giovanni Pernice obtain their first maximum score of 40 in the sixth week of the competition with a masterful “Snow Queen” tango. In week 8, the couple dance for 15 seconds, music cut, to better understand the silent universe in which Rose evolves. “It’s the most beautiful thing I have ever seen on this show”, raves Anton Du Beke, one of the judges of “Strictly Come Dancing”. Tributes are pouring in, from Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to pop star Ed Sheraan. But instead of hiding her handicap, Rose Ayling-Ellis claims it and never forgets to recall the existence of other deaf and deaf people, the few cases they are often the subject of, the difficulties they encounter on a daily basis. in the absence of systematic translation into sign language.

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Rose Ayling-Ellis, the British actress who rocks disability clichés

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