History will be made this weekend in Detroit when the ice dancing team of Karina Manta and Joe Johnson take to the ice at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Manta and Johnson are both openly LGBTQ.
“On the ice, you want to be seen as an athlete,” Manta told Nick McCarvel, himself an openly gay journalist, in an ESPN.com interview. “But it’s also super important to us that we are visible queer athletes.”
Manta came out in October as bisexual in a video love letter to her girlfriend, saying, “I’ve been with you for a whole year and I wanted to say thank you. Mostly thank you for being here even though I’ve made your love my shadow.”
Johnson had been out as gay quietly for years but discussed it publicly for the first time in October and talked to Outsports about the bond he’s formed with Manta.
“We were best friends long before she came out, and being with her through her process of self-actualization was incredible. For the last year we’ve been talking through our different personal experiences as a man and a woman, someone attracted to more than one gender, the stereotypes we’ve had to overcome, the importance of visibility weighed against the desire for privacy, etc.... I’ve learned so much from her, and she’s become herself so gracefully. I’m so proud of her.”
McCarvel writes that Manta and Johnson have choreographed with Christoper Dean a routine that highlights their personalities.
“On the ice, you want to be seen as an athlete,” Manta says. “But it’s also super important to us that we are visible queer athletes.”
Set to the 1980s Eurythmics hit “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” the free dance highlights Manta’s transformed look and allows the two to be freer and looser with the audience.
”I look at our free dance, and people have fun with it, they want to be involved,” Johnson says. “Part of the fun of being queer is you start to let go of the things that might disrupt your identity because you know exactly what you are, and you know exactly what you like.”
Charlie White, an ice dancing gold medalist in 2014, said the fact that Manta and Johnson are each LGBTQ and not potentially romantic partners like other dancing teams might be shakes up the sport and adds an injection of creativity.
”It’s easy to see the same thing over and over again when it’s a man and a woman telling a love story,” he says. “When you have a team that doesn’t portray a romantic relationship for any reason, they’re forced to consider new ways to tell their story. That opens up new doors, new pathways.”
Bravo to Manta and Johnson for being out and using their identities to push the boundaries of their sport.
You can find Karina Manta on Instagram @karinamanta, or on Twitter @karinamantras.
You can follow Joe Johnson on Instagram @JoeJohnsonIce, or on Twitter @JoeJohnsonIce.
NBCSN will air the ice dancing finals Saturday at 7 p.m. ET.