Biracial figure skater Elladj Baldé uses his talent and platform to fight for inclusion

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To Elladj Baldé, figure skating “is one of the most beautiful sports.”

”The thing that I really love about skating is its balance between athleticism and artistry,” he tells Yahoo Life. In order to do triple and quad axels and then land on a blade that's a quarter of an inch thin, he says, you need to be incredibly athletic. But to pull off those “extremely technically difficult” moves while simultaneously telling a story and connecting with an audience? That requires artistry.

Baldé, who was born in Russia, has been skating competitively for most of his life — he learned to skate at just six-years-old — and has had social media for years, but it wasn’t until recently that he went viral, gaining international attention for his talent. While he’d typically share clips from performances and the standard selfie fare, the coronavirus pandemic gave him the opportunity to change things up and start skating outside in picturesque locations like Lake Minnewanka in Alberta, Canada.

“It was actually really healing for me because I was able to be on the ice and just create and just play around and feel like I was a [kid] again, just having fun and create for the sake of creating, and really be free, truly free of all boundaries, all rules, all shackles,” he admits.

His videos have been shared and celebrated by celebrities like Rihanna, Jennifer Garner, Nina Dobrev and more and received countless comments from social media users that have expressed their amazement and praise.

Baldé admits that he’s surprised by the response he’s gotten, but is most proud of the reach he would not have otherwise achieved.

“It's been beautiful to receive the love from people...reaching an audience that hasn't been introduced to skating before and then to see them be introduced to skating in the way that I do it. And to me, that means that I'm starting to shift this perspective that people have about figure skating. And that's a big mission of mine, you know, changing...the way people see figure skating,” he says.

While Baldé’s found acceptance online, it hasn’t been easy for him in real life, especially dealing with gender stereotypes that exist about figure skaters.

“Figure skating is perceived in society as a girl sport,” he notes. “So my whole life I've had to deal with people laughing at the sport that I did, shaming me, asking me, ‘Why am I doing a girl sport?’ And so that whole journey was something that I had to heal from.”

Baldé also struggled with being biracial — his mother is Russian and his father is African — in a sport known for being “white, European and elitist.”

“I think for the longest time, I tried to fit the mold,” he explains. “You know, I code switched a lot. ...The way I dressed, the way that I talked, the music that I skated to, what I wore when I was competing. It didn't feel like I was embracing who I was as a human being, as an artist. And so that journey took a while for me to really dive into what's unique about me, and really embrace it.”

In 2020, Baldé, along with several other figure skaters, created the Figure Skating Diversity and Inclusion Alliance to address the lack of representation in the sport and to take action during a time of racial turmoil. As of Friday, the organization’s GoFundMe has over $7,000 toward their $10,000 goal.

“This summer after the death of George Floyd, myself and a few other skaters, we decided that we were going to come together and use our platforms to start the conversation within the figure skating community because the skating community was silent,” he says. “What we want to do is clean up that path for skaters that are interested in the sport who are from the BIPOC community that want to be successful figure skaters, whatever success means to them. We want to help them achieve that by helping them with funds and equipment and accessibility to rinks and support mentally and emotionally.”

Baldé advises BIPOC who are interested in figure skating to use their passion as a tool to “develop yourself as a human being, develop resilience and just pave a path for people.”

“And if you don't see someone in your neighborhood or in your environment that looks like you that's been successful, then be the one to do it and be the one to pave that way for the skaters that are gonna come after you,” he says. “I think that speaks to also any environment, any career to have that type of belief in oneself and embracing that part that's unique is going to change the world. I think that's where magic happens. So let's do it.”

Video produced by Nurys Castillo

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