Ice dancing partners Karina Manta and Joe Johnson made history this weekend at the 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit by becoming the first openly LGBTQ competitive ice dance team.
“This team is a part of the LGBTQ community and has talked a lot about that, embraced talking about it this week,” NBC Sports commentator Terry Gannon said as the duo stepped on the ice.
Skating to Eurythmics’ 1983 synth-pop anthem “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” Manta, 22, and Johnson, 24, performed their way to a standing ovation and a 7th-place finish. The skating partners — who both came out publicly in October — also challenged the traditional gender roles that have long defined their sport.
Ice dancing is arguably the most heteronormative discipline within figure skating as the teams are mandated to be made up of one man and one woman, and with jumps not permitted, the discipline is focused solely on the skating skills, expression and passion between the partners.
”It’s easy to see the same thing over and over again when it’s a man and a woman telling a love story,” Charlie White, an Olympic gold medalist in ice dancing, told NBC News when asked about Manta and Johnson. “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.”
In an Instagram post shared just weeks after she came out publicly, Manta appeared to agree with White’s sentiment.
“I think this sport is making space for new approaches, new forms of art, new types of people,” she wrote. “I like to think Joe and I are both trying to keep widening the space in our own ways, alongside so many teams who are pushing our art form in a hundred beautiful ways.”
Manta and Johnson both came out publicly in October of last year. Manta came out as bisexual in a video love letter to her girlfriend that was posted on Instagram.
“I’ve been with you for a whole year and I wanted to say thank you,” she wrote. “Mostly thank you for being here even though I’ve made your love my shadow.”
Shortly after Manta came out, Johnson opened up publicly about his sexuality during an interview with LGBTQ sports site OutSports.
“I just kinda started talking about it on social media one day, because it stopped being convenient to skirt around,” Johnson told OutSports. “I certainly didn’t feel obligated.”