His moving performances have glided onto social media feeds. Three years after retiring from the competitive world, professional figure skater Elladj Balde has become a viral sensation — with a modern spin on the sport.
"I have complete freedom now," said Balde. "I can really do what I want to do and I can skate to what I want to skate to and dive deeper into my true authenticity as an artist and as a performer that’s where I really have found my stride and connecting to people!"
The son of a West African father and a figure-skater, Russian mother, Balde was given his first set of blades when he was just six years old.
Athletic and expressive, Balde says he quickly developed a passion but had few role models in the sport as a bi-racial child.
"For the longest time I thought I was going to be a hip hop dancer or a breakdancer, or a basketball player, I thought I was going to be everything we didn’t see in figure skating," Balde added.
Through two decades of competing, the 30-year-old Balde says he did his best to conform to a sport with very strict rules—sticking to traditional costumes and performing to classical music.
"Growing up I was constantly told you can’t skate to this because judges won’t like it, or you can’t wear your hair out because it doesn’t look clean. You can’t do this you can’t do this. And all these things were related to my ethnicity related to who I was."
Eventually, Balde says he began to appreciate the different edge he brought to skating. He says he found real purpose after stepping away from competitions. The COVID-19 pandemic forced him to showcase his talents on social media.
"When I’m picking up speed and doing backflip I feel like I’m flying for me it’s truly a sense of freedom," he said.
His posts resonate with fans, getting hundreds of thousands of "likes."
Balde wants to use his growing influence to bring change to his sport. Balde and some of his colleagues founded the Figure Skating Diversity Inclusion Alliance or FSDIA alliance last summer.
"The next generation of skaters will continue to experience things if we don’t try to do something about it," Balde explained.
The group, which is based in Los Angeles and Canada aims to increase diversity in figure skating, by offering scholarships and mentorships for the underprivileged.
"In certain regions, you can see Black indigenous people of color coming into to sport but they don’t stay. What are the reasons why? Obviously, lack of representation is one of them but also lack of resources financially equipment it doesn’t allow for some parents to give the opportunity for kids to skate."
As a mentor, Balde hopes to give youth hope and advice for a brighter future.
"Find what’s unique about you and share that with the world and dive deeper into that because that’s where authenticity is, that’s where truth lies, that’s where your fulfillment in life lies."
If you’d like to learn more about the scholarships and grants offered by the Figure Skating Diversity Alliance or to donate to the non-profit go to www.fsdia.org. You can also check out Balde’s Instagram @elladjbalde.
The FSDIA has started a petition, calling for more equity, diversity, and inclusion in figure skating.