Canadian figure skater Elladj Baldé is single-handedly modernizing the sport of figure skating with his dynamic, mesmerizing videos on social media.
The 30-year-old has been rapidly capturing the likes of the masses with his innovative figure skating content on TikTok and Instagram.
Taking an unconventional approach to the sport with hip-hop inspired tracks and impressive street-dance moves, the former international competitor has quickly shot to stardom, attracted millions of views and hundreds of thousands of followers.
When COVID-19 shut down rinks and shows across the country, Baldé found an alternative creative outlet; skating outside and filming an array of captivating videos.
“I have the biggest amount of freedom when I’m making these videos,” he tells ET Canada. “There are no rules and no boundaries. I can skate to what I want to skate to, wear what I want to wear and create for the sake of creating. It’s been really inspiring me to continue to explore that side of figure skating and as an artist.”
The social media sensation’s most popular videos show him in baggy joggers, a hoody and toque, moon-walking against a picturesque backdrop. In others, the star pulls off traditional moves like figure-eights and pirouettes while demonstrating his signature move — the backflip, in slow-motion.
“I’m crafting something specifically for someone on their phone,” he says. “Up until now, the way you experienced figure skating was in front of a live audience or on cameras you watch afterwards. Nothing has been crafted specifically someone watching on their phone. It’s a new way to engage and experience figure skating. It’s a personalized performance, something we haven’t seen in skating.”
Born in Russia to a Russian mother and African father, Baldé emigrated to Canada with his family to Montreal. Nowadays, he’s spending time in Alberta with his equally as creative fiancée, Calgary dancer/choreographer Michelle Dawley, who directs his videos.
The retired professional skater has dance in his DNA, he’s been passionate about it since he was a kid. With his unique skating videos, he wants to increase the quality of his moves while creating his own dance style.
“Because of the freedom I have when I do this, it’s really allowing me to be in a way I’ve never been able to,” he explains. “I feel excited because I feel limitless and I can do whatever I want. What’s really exciting is I’m able to introduce the sport to people who never liked it before. That’s what’s engaging a lot of people because it’s different and it’s something they can connect with. It’s something we haven’t seen before.”
After skating for 24 years, Baldé reveals he wasn’t embracing his “authentic self,” but instead, trying to fit a restrictive mould that didn’t line-up with his own artistic expression: “I started diving into what it meant to be an artist and what it looks like for me to express myself authentically. This really allowed me to find creative ways for myself to connect when I’m performing and to connect to people in a way I haven’t been able to do that until I started creating videos.”
Swiftly becoming an inspiration for the BIPOC community, Baldé is one of the co-founders of the Figure Skating Diversity and Inclusion Alliance; an international coalition of athletes, pro skaters, coaches and educators with a mission to help undeserved communities get access to the sport. Baldé believes the sport is based in a “white European elitist environment” and wants the BIPOC community to have the opportunities he had.
“Being the representation for the BIPOC community is huge,” he adds. “I didn’t grow up with any representation. That led me to not fully having a sense of identity and didn’t know where I would fit in in a world that didn’t necessarily allow the BIPOC community to feel authentic.”
Continuing, “It’s inspiring young Black boys and young Indigenous people to take on the sport and see they can be successful in their own way and tap into the things that are unique about them. They can stay authentic and stay true to who they are. My mission is to inspire BIPOC community to pick up a pair of skates.”
The path to social media stardom wasn’t always easy for the pro skater, like with any success, it has a dark side. Baldé says he felt “discouraged” when teased about his skating costumes and others making fun of the sport.
“I remember the first time I felt ashamed of being a figure skater. I was coming back from a competition and I was wearing my figure skating costume, and I recall my neighbour’s first reaction was to laugh and say ‘what are you wearing?'” he explains. “These things register in your mind and tell you this sport may not be perceived in society in the same way as you, so you start building barriers and removing yourself from that. There was a long time in my life where I started lying about it. Black people don’t skate. Boys don’t skate.”
Having been through his own struggles, it’s no wonder Baldé wants to shift perspectives by inspiring and encouraging young boys to continue their passions, embrace vulnerability and break stifling societal stereotypes of what men are supposed to be.
Explaining, “I had to go through my own healing process and accepting myself and embracing the things I love and I’m passionate about. I don’t pay attention to or give my energy to people who are trying to take that away from me. It’s important for me to encourage others to embrace that, put blinders on and go forward with it, working and being determined. I’ve fully embraced who I am and what I do and I’m comfortable and empowered by the possibility of living my life how I want, and manifest what I want to manifest.”