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JESSICA FELLOWES describes the joy of jiving when you are hard of hearing

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Strictly Come Dancing is a highlight for me every year: I love the sequins, the dodgy colors, the folly of Claudia Winkleman’s jokes, the rudeness of Craig Revel Horwood’s humiliations, the celebrities on their “travels,” the brilliant dancers and the clump movers all.

But this year, Rose Ayling-Ellis has me glued to the screen more than usual every Saturday night.

The 26-year-old EastEnders actress is the show’s first deaf participant. And from what we’ve seen so far of her group dance slides alongside pro partner Giovanni Pernice, she’s got what it takes. And yet, when she was announced as one of this year’s 15 celebrities, many wondered why she was in if she can’t hear the music.

Except for me. Like Rose, I am also deaf and I like to dance. While some of the lyrics may be lost to the hearing impaired – for years I thought Queen sang about public transportation (“Another One Rides The Bus”) – the deep thump of the beat is something we hearing impaired can feel.

As Rose explained to Winkleman on the launch show, you don’t just hear music, “you hear it with body language, with vibration, with the atmosphere.”

EastEnders star Rose Ayling-Ellis, 26, has become Stricly Come Dancing’s first deaf contestant

I was born deaf and wasn’t diagnosed until I was two. My parents wondered why their usually well-behaved child was sometimes very stubborn, unresponsive to phone calls in the park, or very close to the TV.

I have been wearing hearing aids ever since. Without them it sounds like I’m underwater and I can’t hear certain background noises at all, for example a song playing on the radio.

Rose also wears hearing aids and also needs a British Sign Language interpreter on set when interviewed, but not significantly when dancing.

I remember the epiphany I felt when I first realized I could dance—more than just hopping around the kitchen with my mom. It was in the disco of the youth club of my church. I was ten years old. My dad and I performed a series of our favorite rock and roll moves until a circle formed around us, applauding and cheering us on.

The jive was then unstoppable. When my best friend came over, we came up with routines for entire Abba and Madonna albums. As a teenage girl with the usual issues of body confidence and social shyness, compounded by the difficulty hearing people at parties, these worries fell away when I danced.

On Saturday afternoons, my grandma and I watched Busby Berkeley musicals in black and white on BBC2 – I still fantasize about being a dancer in a lineup with a giant ostrich feather.

Jessica Fellowes, who is deaf like Rosa Ayling-Ellis, is pictured letting loose at a wedding

Jessica Fellowes, who is deaf like Rosa Ayling-Ellis, is pictured letting loose at a wedding

When I was 15 years old, I discovered clubbing and the pulsating sensation of house music, which conveniently had only a few lyrics repeated. Dressed in a black catsuit with a fake Chanel bum bag (it was the late ’80s, okay?), my friends and I regularly went to Legends, RAW, Camden Palace, the fridge of Ministry of Sound over the years and danced the whole night .

When I got my driver’s license at 17, I was happy to drive us as far as it took to get to the best clubs and music. I never drank or took the pills that had reached the clubs in the 1990s. I just wanted to dance for that unique feeling of being among hundreds of strangers, feeling not only safe but in unity as we moved to the same rhythm.

It probably helps that this vibe is something of a leveling up: When the music is so loud, I’m not the only one having to lip-read or mimic my words.

Moving with complete surrender, I lost myself in the celebration of the moment

When I was 19 I went to Colombia for three months. I didn’t speak Spanish, but soon I picked up salsa, eliminating any language barrier. Everyone dances there, almost before they can walk. In any ordinary restaurant, after the food was eaten, the tables were pushed back, the music got louder, and the guests got up and started dancing.

At the University of Edinburgh, where it was practically compulsory to learn how to reel and drink whisky, I soon became adept at both. I’ve had many good nights in a Scottish hall where the Gay Gordons were spun. During my 20s and 30s I danced every weekend whether it was at a club, party, festival or wedding. I never went to the gym: I didn’t have to when I was burning those calories under the glitter ball.

I also don’t need fancy DJs and laser beams to hit the floor. Some of my best nights were with just one or two friends, working through Spotify playlists until the wee hours.

Being deaf is undoubtedly the reason I am an enthusiastic dancer. Carrying on a conversation in a busy situation is difficult for me, even with my lip reading skills and the brilliant digital tools I have today.

When I can’t hear what is being said, I rely heavily on body language. This is useful on the dance floor when mirroring someone’s movements, a classic way to make you feel more comfortable together. Then there’s the fact that I learned long ago not to be easily embarrassed if I misheard what someone was saying or words I’d only read but not heard. On the dance floor, you have to let go of your inhibitions and just go for it: dance, as the saying goes, as if no one is watching.

The 26-year-old EastEnders actress is the show's first deaf participant.  And from what we've seen so far of her group dance slides alongside pro partner Giovanni Pernice, she's got what it takes.  And yet, when she was announced as one of this year's 15 celebrities, many wondered why she was in if she can't hear the music.

The 26-year-old EastEnders actress is the show’s first deaf participant. And from what we’ve seen so far of her group dance slides alongside pro partner Giovanni Pernice, she’s got what it takes. And yet, when she was announced as one of this year’s 15 celebrities, many wondered why she was in if she can’t hear the music.

There’s a photo of me at a friend’s wedding that sums up what dancing can do and it’s my favorite photo.

When I was in the taxi on my way to church, I broke up with my boyfriend – quite timing – and was heartbroken. But I also wanted to celebrate my girlfriend’s wedding the way she deserved. I couldn’t sit in the corner and sob. Instead, I danced – moving with complete abandon as I lost myself completely in the moment. There’s even a happy ending: the boyfriend is now my husband.

My novel The Mitford Affair describes how the main character, a working-class girl named Louisa Cannon, discovers this experience in a nightclub in London’s Soho in the 1920s.

For this generation, whose parents had known nothing more spicy than a waltz, jazz was more than music: it was a way of life that broke down barriers.

As I wrote about Louisa: “Everything, everything fell away and all that mattered was to keep dancing.”

That’s what music and dance can do. Even if you are deaf. I’m sure this year’s Strict will be the best yet, and I’ll be cheering Rose on every week. And yes, you can bet I’m on my stuff every Saturday night too.

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