MISSISSAUGA, Ont. -- Emanuel Sandhu said he learned one of his best life lessons from a choreographer on the reality TV show "So You Think You Can Dance Canada."
The 32-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., is staging a comeback after six years away from figure skating, and received a standing ovation for his ninth-place performance in the men's short program at the Canadian championships Friday night.
Sandhu, a three-time Canadian champion, said he's in a better place than he was when he walked away from skating frustrated and lacking all love for the sport in 2007.
The skater who said he spent his life running away from a "crusty childhood" said a few words from a perceptive Mia Michaels -- a renowned dance choreographer -- helped set him in the right direction.
"She pulled me aside and said, 'There's beauty in darkness so don't be afraid to embrace that.' It's one of the best lessons I've ever learned because it's easy to shuck those things off and be flippant about it, I've done it before," said Sandhu, who finished third among the men on "So You Think You Can Dance."
"That's the only maybe I would tell my younger self, embrace it, it's not a bad thing."
His comeback, he said, is a way of reaching back and "getting in touch with the younger me, and not just the skater ... Again this is about me turning around and facing my demons and all that darkness. We all have that. And owning it instead of running away, because you can use it."
Sandhu skated to an old program from 2000 to Albinoni's "Adagio in G Minor" that he'd tweaked to conform with the new skating rules. He wore a gauzy grey costume that he pulled out of his closet.
"Isn't it amazing it still fits me, 15 years later?" he said. "I like to keep all my costumes, it's kind of like an archive for me."
He scored 60.42 points for his program that included two triples, but no quads nor a triple Axel. He said he hasn't had enough time to prepare to land those jumps in competition.
The Hershey Centre crowd didn't seem to care, cheering him on as he stepped on the ice.
"It's like everything that I live for, I'm a true performer at heart," he said. "The audience was amazing, I couldn't have asked for anything better."
Sandhu was known as much for what most saw as unfulfilled potential as his talent on the ice. He won the Grand Prix Final in 2004, defeating Russian world great Evgeni Plushenko. The Canadian was one of just two skaters -- the other was Brian Joubert -- to beat Plushenko between 2002 and '06.
But on the Olympic stage, he had to withdraw from the 2002 Salt Lake Games with an injury then was a disappointing 13th at the 2006 Games.
He shared few details about what he's been doing since 2007, except to say he'd worked as a landscaper one summer and performed in some skating shows.
He said he also deleted any social media presence.
"Some people go backpacking through India, I just needed to keep out all external voices and stuff like that and really feel what I wanted to do, what I'm about, what makes me tick," he said.
As for his comeback, Sandhu, who's been training without a coach at an arena in Burnaby, B.C., is not sure how far he'll continue.
"For me right now, I have to get through this week, and then re-assess."