Watch CBS News

How a deaf dancer is inspiring a nation, and sweeping the floor with competitors on U.K.'s "Strictly Come Dancing"

London — A British dancer is making history as a deaf contestant on "Strictly Come Dancing," the British version of "Dancing with the Stars."

Rose Ayling-Ellis glides along the floor with the kind of grace that you might expect of a finalist, hitting each beat with superhuman accuracy. But Rose can't hear the beat. The 27-year-old soap opera actress has been deaf since birth.

CBS Correspondent Charlie D'Agata spoke to Ayling-Ellis and her dance partner, Giovanni Pernice, with the help of a British Sign Language assistant, and asked her how she's able to dance without hearing the music.

National Television Awards 2021 - Red Carpet Arrivals
Rose Ayling-Ellis  Karwai Tang/WireImage/Getty

"Well, I just do a lot of counting in my head, and when you count and repeat and repeat and repeat, it just becomes a muscle memory," she said. 

"I can dance, and I can count," Ayling-Ellis said, "It's just a different way of learning, a different way of teaching, and it's different — it's just different!"

That different way means relying heavily on cues from her dance partner. Penrice said their bodies are close, so she can follow him.

"I don't feel the music," Ayling-Ellis said, "I feel Giovani!"

And does she ever. The pair is proving they can more than keep up with the competition. They clocked up the earliest perfect score in the history of the series.

Thanks to Ayling-Ellis' fan following, the British Sign Language website has seen a 3,000% increase in people signing up for online courses.

Her moves have made her a role model for the deaf, including for 7-year-old Tilly.

"So, you see her dance, you think, 'maybe I can dance?'" D'Agata asked Tilly. "Even though you're not like other people, that don't have glasses or hearing aids, you can still be like them?"

"Even though you've got problems on you, you can still do the same things as them," she replied.

There was a moment in the series when Ayling-Ellis extended her hands and invited the world into her own world, dancing through 15 seconds of perfect silence that resonated in homes across Britain.

"I feel it's a powerful chance to show people my world," Ayling-Ellis said. "I feel like, this is what is so normal for me, it's so normal, but for other people it's like a big moment for them to see what it's like in our world, but that's what's normal for me, if that makes sense?"

It certainly makes sense to Tilly.

"You don't need to do things perfect, just like other people, but you can still get trying and trying," she said.

Ayling-Ellis and Pernice have made it to the finals, which air on the BBC in the U.K. on December 18. The bookies have them tipped to win it all.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.