Paralympic swimming gold medallist Ellie Simmonds has said watching reality star Terra Jole on the US version of Strictly Come Dancing made her believe she could also compete as until then she had “never seen anyone with dwarfism dance before”.
The five-time Paralympic champion and broadcaster is among the 15 celebrity contestants who will be taking to the dancefloor as the 20th series of the BBC show returns to screens on Friday.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast on Thursday, Simmonds revealed she had reached out to Little Women: LA star Jole for advice on how to adapt the dance moves.
She said: “Terra Jolie is an individual with dwarfism who did the American version of Dancing with the Stars and actually I got in contact with her saying ‘Any tips? How is it going to be? What am I going to do? How are we going to adapt? How are we going to change?’
“But I knew seeing her do it that I could do it because I had never seen anyone with dwarfism dance before.”
The 27-year-old revealed that Jole had advised her to overextend her legs as she explained, “with dwarfism you get bowing of the legs and with some of the movements you have to keep your legs straight”.
She added that hyperextending your legs in this way can be “uncomfortable” but that she was trying to do it as much as she could while still smiling and remembering the dance moves and routine.
Simmonds also said she feels Strictly is “paving the way for accepting being different on TV” as she recalled how last year’s winner Rose Ayling-Ellis was the first deaf contestant on the show as well as Paralympians Jonnie Peacock, Will Bayley, Lauren Steadman and Invictus Games medallist JJ Chalmers competing throughout the years.
The swimming champion, who at the age of 13 was the youngest British athlete at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, admitted that she was feeling both “excited” and “very nervous” ahead of the show’s launch on Friday and the first live show on Saturday.
“This is way out of my comfort zone. I’m normally in a swimming costume, hat and goggles and this is dancing in front of millions of people, on the Strictly Ballroom in front of the judges as well,” she explained.
“And it’s remembering everything. Normally when I’m swimming I’m not thinking about smiling, not thinking about the facial expressions. I’ve got to think about legs, arms, body position, shoulders back, smiling, showing the emotion – it’s so much to think about”.
She added that she was initially surprised about the professional partner she has been paired up with but she is pleased as she feels they are “amazing”.
However, she explained that they will have to adapt their style slightly due to their height difference.
Simmonds said: “My partner is tall and I am small and I’ve never danced before and they’ve never danced with an individual with dwarfism before so it’s going to be different, we’re not going to hold each other in the same postures as everyone else does.
“And it’s figuring it all out. And for me, it’s like the leg movements, my width in my legs is a lot shorter than an average height person.”
She added: “It’s all different, it’s out of my comfort zone and if I can do it in a different way people watching can realise they can dance and it’s not a traditional way, it’s different.”
The celebrity line-up this year also includes Ted Lasso actress Ellie Taylor, Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps actor Will Mellor, Loose Women star Kaye Adams and Coronation Street actress Kym Marsh, TV presenter Helen Skelton and former England footballer Tony Adams.
They are joined by Bros singer Matt Goss, Kiss radio host Tyler West, Britain’s Got Talent finalist Molly Rainford, comedian and actress Jayde Adams, Wildlife cameraman and presenter Hamza Yassin and BBC Radio 2’s Richie Anderson, EastEnders actor James Bye and singer Fleur East.
Strictly Come Dancing launches on September 23 at 7pm on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.