That viral backflip figure skater? He is a Calgarian with plans to uplift various athletes

Elladj Baldé poses with dozens of pairs of figure skates that he and the Skate Global Foundation donated to the Temple community in Calgary.  (Submitted by Michelle Dawley - photo credit)

Elladj Baldé poses with dozens of pairs of figure skates that he and the Skate Global Foundation donated to the Temple community in Calgary. (Submitted by Michelle Dawley – photo credit)

It’s a move he’s become famous for on social media.

Elladj Baldé glides across an outdoor ice rink in Bowness, a northwest Calgary neighborhood, and as soon as he revs up, he turns around. Gracefully swinging a foot forward, he thrusts his body into the air and slams back onto the ice as he lands a backflip.

Its unique moves have garnered a lot of attention, Baldé says, but he suspects there’s another reason people are pausing.

“I don’t look like a typical figure skater,” he said.

“Being able to show the next generation of Black, Indigenous and people of color that we are here and can thrive is one of the strongest messages we can carry to our community.”

Baldé began attracting attention on social media in December 2020. His wife, Michelle Dawley, posted a video in which he laced up his skates, hopped onto an ice rink in Altadore — in southwest Calgary — and threw his signature flip before dancing around the rink.

Within 24 hours, the post had about 10 million views, Dawley said.

“It’s so wild because you don’t see the impact and how many people are actually seeing it,” she said. “It was pretty wild, pretty overwhelming.”

Today, Baldé has about two million followers between his TikTok and Instagram accounts, she said.

He uses the notoriety to inspire other versatile figure skaters. He also co-founded the Skate Global Foundation with Dawley to create more representation in the sport.

It was officially launched in November 2021 to support and fund Black, Indigenous and Colored (BIPOC) people who practice figure skating.

The duo have previously helped renovate an ice rink in Northeast Calgary. They also gave away 50 pairs of ice skates to parishioners.

Submitted by Michelle Dawley

Submitted by Michelle Dawley

“Skating in general is such an expensive thing, and even having the ability to step on the ice,” Dawley said. “So that was an initiative that we’re really proud of.”

In addition to financing, the videos provide inspiration.

Growing up, Baldé says, he didn’t see many people who looked like him on the ice rink.

“I couldn’t be myself in this sport until I saw a black male figure skater skate in front of me for the first time,” he said.

“That’s what representation does. It allows you to see yourself and believe in yourself in a way you’ve never been able to before.”

Competitive Figure Skating

Despite the joy on Baldé’s face in his videos, he says he wasn’t always in love with the sport.

At the age of six he started figure skating in Russia. His mother was a competitive figure skater, he said, and she introduced him to a local rink for the first time.

“I remember enjoying it a lot and being very comfortable on the ice,” he said.

But soon after, the competitions began. And the focus was on being the best, which meant working within strict guidelines.

David Mercer/CBC

David Mercer/CBC

Baldé eventually moved to Canada where he had a successful professional career. He says he’s grateful for it, but he’s never really felt like he could express himself freely.

“For a very long time I’ve been so locked in this box that I have to adapt and do things a certain way in order to be successful,” he said.

“I’ve started moving towards art and exploring this space, what can I offer to this sport that is unlike any other?”

Viral sensation

As his focus shifted, strapping on his skates became all the more fulfilling. Others caught his passion, and when the first video’s views skyrocketed, he found his new stage.

Since those early days, videos have gotten more complicated.

Dawley is also a dancer and choreographer and helps plan Baldé’s moves.

“She’s not constrained by figure skating moves,” Baldé said. “Sometimes she suggests something and I’m like, ‘I don’t know if that’s possible on the ice.’ And suddenly we’re on the ice and we’re like, ‘It actually works. That’s amazing.'”

The duo carefully selects every piece of music they use. You will also get help from other professional figure skaters to ensure the videos are shot correctly.

All of this comes together to create a different kind of skating experience than people are used to.

role models

“I’m just so inspired by my husband,” Dawley said.

“The more you live your own life as authentically as possible, that will really change the world.”

This year, the Skate Global Foundation is focused on providing support and funding for figure skaters who are facing obstacles, be it equipment, coaching or travel expenses.

David Mercer/CBC

David Mercer/CBC

Aside from sharing his skating, Baldé wants his videos to reach young skaters who don’t feel like they belong.

“There is nothing more beautiful than being who you are and being able to share that with the world and be celebrated for it,” said Baldé.

“Be true to yourself. Do what you want on the ice and allow the world to celebrate you.”


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