14 February 2024

Dancing On Ice pro Vanessa Bauer: Growing up on welfare, I was laughed at for not having my own skates

14 February 2024

Dancing On Ice favourite Vanessa Bauer has revealed she was “laughed at” for not owning her own skates as a teenager, as she grew up on benefits and her family was “always in debt”.

The professional figure skater, who is partnered with Made In Chelsea star Miles Nazaire on the current series of the ITV show, hosted by Holly Willoughby and Stephen Mulhern, said the ice rink was her “escape from the difficulties going on at home”.

“We always lived off social welfare. Neither of my parents actually were employed when I was born. So that was always a big struggle, we never had [money], we were always in debt,” said the 27-year-old, originally from Berlin, Germany.

“[When] I started doing figure skating shows and started earning money, that was the first time that my family actually had money in an account,” added Bauer – who is hotly tipped to make it to this year’s Dancing On Ice final, after she and Nazaire were joint top of the leader board last week for their rock-inspired performance to Slade’s Cum On Feel The Noize.

Bauer’s talent was spotted by a coach when she was only  four – and it was thanks to them offering to teach her for free that she was able to skate.

“I was with my dad at a public ice skating session and it was a Russian coach who saw my potential. She came up to my dad and tried to convince him to get me into ice skating. He was laughing at her, basically [thinking] that’s not going to be possible. But she was a young coach and just really saw my potential, so she taught me.”

But, she added: “It was really hard growing up because figure skating is such a rich sport – literally all my friends came from wealthy families. So I was always the person that was laughed at because I never had my own skates.

“We were never able to afford them. It’s a big expense for a family that is struggling to raise two children.”

In fact, Bauer didn’t have a new pair of her own until she was 18. “I auditioned for figure skating shows and still had my old pair of second-hand boots even for those shows. Even when I went to the German championships, that was never in my own boots.

“I never had a competition dress. I had one pair of leggings for four years in a row, which is absolutely crazy.”

Now, as an ambassador for Fabletics, she added: “I get all the sports clothes I could possibly dream of – I always have to remind myself I’m living my teenage dream.”

At 18, Bauer landed a skating job in Hong Kong. “That’s when I first started earning money through ice skating, then I went on the cruise ships and that’s when the pay checks got bigger.

“It does definitely feel empowering that I’m able to look after myself entirely. I always knew that I wanted to earn independence. But I definitely see the privilege in doing what I do.”

Training as a teenager was tough, however. “Figure skating is a very beautiful, elegant sport, but it is brutal as well. You have to be thick skinned to do this.

“My coaches were really strict with me. Now that I’m older, I don’t see that was necessary back then, the way they were yelling at us. I always thought that was just the normal way of getting results, by being really tough on yourself and other people, applying a lot of pressure on yourself.

“So I think I developed a very thick skin – from when I was born to be fair. It caused me a lot of sadness over my years growing up, but also it really created a basis for me consistently doing really well.”

Caring for her mental health now is major, she said, after a past battle with disordered eating. “The lack of looking after my mental health when I was a competitive skater and a teenager is what caused me having to stop competitive figure skating. An eating disorder I had back then, that I was struggling with for over a decade, is what really destroyed me. It took me over 10 years to say that I had that, because it was so severe for me.”

She had therapy “for many years” as well as counselling – which she still keeps up today.

“My relationship with my body and food is the best it has ever been,” she added. “It’s only been the last three years where I haven’t had any thoughts about my food habits. I know what triggers my eating disorder, I can sense whenever my mind is telling me [that] my thoughts are circulating around food again – that’s when the vicious circle starts. But because of all the counselling, my meditation, my yoga, I now know how to deal with it and how to take a reset.

“I don’t ever weigh myself, I could not have a scale [in my house]. I have no idea how much I weigh. When I see a scale, my stomach even starts hurting because it reminds me of what it did to me when I was young.”

On Dancing On Ice this weekend, Bauer will be skating to a song personal to celebrity partner Nazaire (“A great student, he really listens and respects me as a coach”). Coincidentally, it was also her dad’s favourite artist, who died after a six-year battle with cancer in 2021, three weeks before her series partnered with Brendan Cole.

“It was weird because my grieving only really started when I finished the series, because I was so distracted. I threw myself into work,” Bauer recalled.

“I had so many moments where I would lock myself in the toilet and just cry for an hour. I know that’s normal and you should never judge how someone is grieving, because everyone grieves in different ways.

“The very first time after I finished the series with Brendan, I came back home and [my dad] wasn’t there, I felt like he’d died again. I felt like I was dying because I couldn’t breathe, I was in shock again, which is really bizarre.”

After everything, self care has become especially important – and whenever she doesn’t have a busy Dancing On Ice schedule, Bauer takes long walks and swims a lot. “I always have half a litre of water before I get up, I like to go to the sauna twice a week, I feel like I can get into a meditative state when I’m in there.

“I go for a walk without my phone, maybe taking a journal and writing [my] thoughts down.”

As a qualified personal trainer, she knows how to train in the gym. “But it’s not what I like anymore. I like outdoorsy things like hiking and walking,” said Bauer. “People really underestimate the power of walking.”

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