Elladj Baldé: Finding Yourself Through Athleticism & Artistry

Elladj Baldé’s resilience on his path to professional figure skating and the highs and lows he experienced along the way.

The world has seen many artists and athletes but there are only a handful that leave an imprint on other people’s lives. What is that unique factor that sets them apart from the rest? The ability to find one’s self amidst the net of expectations and judgment is what allows these individuals to make a significant mark not just professionally but also by touching their audiences emotionally.

A poignant example of a person with this ability is Elladj Baldé, a Canadian former competitive figure skater and co-founder of The Art of Performance, a unique training camp for figure skaters. Born in Russia, Elladj immigrated to Canada with his family in 1992. He remembers how his parents made huge sacrifices to give him and his sisters a comfortable life. His parents’ work ethic made an impact on him both personally and professionally. Recalling one of the lessons he learned from his father’s journey, he added, “My dad wasn’t the most naturally intelligent but he was certainly the most hardworking and that allowed him to excel.”

Elladj’s own skating journey began because of his mother. When he was 6, his mother took him to a local outdoor rink in Montreal. Initially, his relationship with the sport was skewed because of the pressure and expectations that he felt constantly under. It was only at around the age of ten that he started enjoying skating as the sport’s technical aspects started to interest him.

He also mentioned the toll that performance can take on an athlete in terms of mental health since self-worth being wrapped up with the idea of is so a champion, and track of one’s identity in the process.

“AS A MAN, DANCING TO SLOW MUSIC IS CONCEIVED AS YOU BEING ‘SOFT.’ HOWEVER, IT REINFORCES MY RELATIONSHIP WITH MY MASCULINITY AND HELPS ME FIND FREEDOM WITHIN MYSELF.”

It was his trip to Africa in 2015 that helped him on road to self-discovery As he saw people deeply connected to each other and nature, his perspective began to change. He realized how important it was for him to touch on his artistic abilities and tell his story.

Following this passion, Elladj Baldé founded The Art of Performance with Michelle Dawley, training where figure skaters could connect with their own distinctiveness and use it to harness their creativity.

One of the beauties of figure skating as a sport is the fact that it is probably the only sport with an artistic and athletic balance, where each skater possesses an individual style.

However, the sport has its limitations as well, often forcing to fit into a mold rather than present their true authentic self. For example, Elladj said, he has always been into hip-hop and rap music but during figure-skating competitions he felt obliged to skate to classical music. Today he skates to hip-hop music that allows him to express himself in profound ways. “A man dancing to slow music is perceived as being ‘soft,’” he added. “However, it reinforces my relationship with my masculinity and helps me find freedom within myself.”

Reminiscing about the closing chapter of his competitive journey, he adds how he was recovering from an injury before the national championship in 2018. Amid the competitive pressure, a friend advising him to set himself free helped him.

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“I realized that I didn’t need to go to the Olympics to feel that I have done enough or I have been enough.” Talking about his current relationship with the sport, he said that making videos for social media and skating in the mountains provide him with an incredible sense of freedom.

Asked what he thinks defines a champion, he shared, “The ability to move through failures and mould them into growth is for me the definition of a champion.” Top athletes do that, which makes them not just better skaters or athletes but better human beings. It is this ability to grow as a human that inspires him to get up every day and do what he loves with all his heart.


INTERVIEW BY MARC CASTALDO

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