I have a lot of time for Strictly Come Dancing but this year’s series has been wonderful, not just in terms of the dancing but also the inclusion stories woven through it. With John and Johannes, the first all male couple, and Rose Ayling-Ellis, raising deaf awareness, both in the final it promises to be an great night for on screen representation, inclusion and entertainment.
For any of you who missed Rose and Giovanni’s ‘silent’ dance I really encourage you to watch the video below, or tune in for the final as they will be performing it again. They kept the plan to perform part of the dance without music secret with Rose later saying, “I felt like I wanted to tell our story, because it’s positive and a lot of people, like, when they find out their child is deaf, they think of their world as crushed, but it shouldn’t be. Being deaf is a gift.”
That last sentence has really stuck with me: being deaf is a gift. Too often when we think about disability we frame it negatively, we consider it as an unfair burden or challenge. I love Rose’s story and how she has approached her Strictly appearance as an opportunity to challenge stereotypes and build positive understanding and connection with the deaf community.
The other big inclusion story has been of John and Johannes. I am sad, but unsurprised, that the pair have had to deal with repeated trolling throughout the contest. That small minority of people need to take a good look in the mirror because they have both been mesmerising and their dances have provided something distinctive and unique that we haven’t seen before.
The real inclusion story started before the John even joined the show. In an article with the Metro he revealed that he had assumed he would have to dance with a woman ‘because that was what the narrative was’. It is interesting that he held this view for two reasons: firstly he was assuming he couldn’t influence the decision and secondly a same sex pairing had already been aired on Strictly with Nicola Adams and Katya Jones pairing up in 2020. However, what John shared next in his interview is the most hard hitting comment revealing that he told bosses ‘“I really think I should dance with a straight man’, just to temper it a little bit and make it a bit more digestible for people who perhaps aren’t willing to digest that kind of thing.’
This comment reflects so much of what so many people have to do on a daily basis, hide their true authentic self to make it palatable for others. As a society and individuals we have to work harder to ensure that everyone feels safe and able to be their true selves all of the time. If you want to address this in your workplace there is a simple starting point. Find out whoever runs your staff engagement survey and ask them if you have a question like:
“I can be myself at this organisation without worrying about how I will be accepted.“
Then if they add it, or if there already is one like it, encourage an interrogation of the responses from people from different identities. Questions like this are a great place to start if you are trying to determine how inclusive an environment you have and then read the open comments from those people who replied negatively, it will give you insight on what needs to change.
Finally, I’d like to say that allyship really does make a difference. If you are unsure about how many interventions can have an impact just read these two comments from John:
relating to the comments the pairing have received online “the hate really has been lost in a tidal wave of kindness and support for us both”
and speaking about their couple’s choice dance in the semi-finals “Little kids who watch the show, to have same-sex role models will give them a little bit of hope for the future and it won’t make them grow up with the same shame that I grew up with.”