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First deaf contestant on Strictly Come Dancing creates change – for the better

Rose Ayling-Ellis dancing
Photo: BBC

Strictly Come Dancing producers are learning sign language to accommodate Rose Ayling-Ellis, the show’s first deaf contestant. 

Ayling-Ellis, who plays Frankie Lewis in EastEnders, joins the cast of celebrities participating in the long-running dancing show, returning this weekend, reports Sky News.

Sarah James, executive producer of Strictly since 2019, said several adjustments are happening, including bringing in an interpreter, undergoing deaf awareness training and learning sign language.

James added, “I think already myself and the team have learned a lot from Rose.

“She’s an amazing person, she is also very honest about what she needs and what we need to adapt, so it’s been an ongoing conversation.

“All of the team are doing deaf awareness training, which has been brilliant, and we’re learning some sign language, and that’s been brilliant as well.

“Obviously, Rose will need an interpreter with her at all times so she will always have an interpreter with her in training.

“And then on the show, you may see an interpreter occasionally on camera – obviously she’ll need somebody to interpret the judge’s comments and her chats with Claudia (Winkleman, one of the show’s presenters).

“But other than that, I know that Rose is looking forward to the show just like everybody else and I can’t wait to see what she does.”

James also spoke about the show’s history-making first male same-sex partnership, with Bake Off star John Whaite.

This pairing comes on the heels of the first all-female duo of Nicola Adams and Katya Adams who competed in last year’s show. They dropped out midway through the competition after testing positive for COVID-19.

James said, “It’s definitely something that we’ve always wanted to do and I’m really excited about John doing it.

“I think he’s already proven that he’s an amazing spokesperson for it and he’s a household name and he is just a brilliant guy, so I’m really looking forward to it being John this year.

“I think Nicola and Katya were amazing last year, and I think everybody really, really enjoyed that partnership.

“It was obviously a shame that it was cut short because of what happened, but they’ve 100% paved the way, the research that we’ve done since has proven that everybody really, really appreciated that partnership.”

The show will, once again, have a limited number of people in the audience due to COVID-19 protocols. The professional dances will be filmed in advance, rather than having live performances, to prevent training bubbles from being broken.

Strictly Come Dancing returns to BBC One on Saturday, September 18.

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