In two short years, Dancing On Ice pro Karina Manta has gone from being a last-minute substitute to reigning champion.
The US skater was called on as a reserve during the ITV show’s infamous 13th series, which saw a number of contestants pull out early due to injuries and the Covid pandemic.
In 2022, she was brought back to the professional cast, where she and her celebrity partner Regan Gascogine were eventually voted the public’s favorite couple.
“It was just a dream come true,” she says of her win. “Regan was an angel and worked so hard. I was so proud of everything he was able to achieve…it really is something special.
“I think it was really cool for us too because I mean everyone was great but we had so much fun skating together and coming up with new routines every week. We said to each other we just wanted to do as many routines as possible, because we were having so much fun, winning was just a bonus.”
Before joining Dancing On Ice, Karina was best known in the skating world for competing with her skating partner Joe Johnson, who joined the ITV show the same year she did.
The two are the first U.S. skating team to consist of two performers who are openly LGBTQ (“as far as we know,” she adds, laughing), which she says sets them apart but also comes with its own risks in the sport .
She explains: “We were greeted by a lot of people and I don’t want to belittle that, but especially when it comes to ice dancing, There is a lot of pressure to appear as a romantic couple. Or to present some kind of heterosexual narrative on the ice. So this way… I don’t know if risky is the right word but it challenged a lot I think, [ideas] in ice dance.
“There is a lot of pressure to portray only very specific gender roles. And I think every kind of queerness challenges that in sports as well.”
However, she adds, “Being outside brings a new creative perspective to the sport, which I think is really cool.”
“I love seeing new things on the ice. One of my favorite things to do is to see something completely new,” says Karina. “It’s really exciting in that regard.
“And also just for kids in the sport who didn’t have any — because I definitely didn’t know a single queer woman in skating growing up, and that was tough.”
To celebrate Pride Month, we spoke to Karina about the queer performers who are changing the world of ice skating, the modern day queer icon she is “obsessed with” and what it means despite the obstacles the LGBTQ+ community faces to find joy…
Who was the first queer person you looked up to?
That’s a little cheesy, but may I say Joe [Johnson, her skating partner and fellow Dancing On Ice pro]. Because Joe was out before me and obviously he’s my best friend. I think it was so incredibly important for me to have someone close by who I could talk to about anything. He helped me a lot.
There were so many things – the first time I went to a gay club was on his birthday and he was one of the few people I went with. Just different things like this where he kind of led me into these rooms and took me to shows with gay people. It was nice to have someone to hold my hand through the process.
What was the first LGBTQ+ TV show or film that you remember resonated with you?
I’m a big nerd, but I saw The Legend Of Korra – that was before I was out. And I just cried when it was over, which was probably a sign for me to come out, at least for myself. I had a friend who was like, “Karina, you’re going to love this show,” I think she might be trying to tell me something.
It’s basically an animated show and the main character is bisexual and has been in a relationship with a male friend for a while. And then, at the very end, she ends up with a friend who is very close to her. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a main character on a show that was bi until this point.
Which song do you associate with your own coming out?
When I first came out, Hayley Kiyoko’s Girls Like Girls was definitely like my anthem. It’s just so much fun and the music video is perfect. Hayley definitely knows how to make a music video. I’ve also listened to a lot of Tegan + Sara over the years. They were among the only ones [queer] Artists I really knew at the time, so they’re both pretty important to me. They are legends.
What was the last LGBTQ+ show or movie that impressed you?
I just saw Hearstopper and I was just an emotional wreck about it. I’m a sucker for a queer young adult narrative, and Heartstopper just did such a good job. It was so compassionate and sweet. As I watched, I kept thinking, “Wow, I’m so glad kids have this.”
Who is your ultimate queer icon?
I’ll tell Torrey Peters who wrote Detransition, Baby. I’m obsessed with her, I thought her book was amazing. So funny and funny and compassionate and obviously very weird. It’s so good, I was blown away.
Who is currently a queer public figure that excites you about the future?
I say Amber Glenn, a skater in the US. She came out a few years ago and she’s just really uncompromisingly herself. She makes me really excited about the future of skating, I’m really excited for her presence. In her skating, she doesn’t necessarily try to fit into this heteronormative, rigid notion of a female figure skater. And I think that’s cool.
She really celebrates her place in the queer community, and every time she skates there are always pride flags and bi-flags in the stands, which gets me emotional. I love watching her.
Why do you think Pride is still important today?
Being queer is still something that comes with many challenges. And I love being queer, but I’m just saying socially, there’s still work to be done to make the world safe for queer people. And so I think it’s important that we recognize that and that we still have spaces to organize and work to make the world a safer place for queer people.
And I also think that joy is so important. A lot of queer people have had to deal with a lot of pain and work through a lot of pain, and I think finding community is how you heal that. And that’s why pride is very important to me.
I didn’t grow up in a queer community, I didn’t know any queer people growing up, and every time I’m at Pride and I’m surrounded by people like me, it’s almost a shock to me – to still be surrounded by community, it takes my breath away. it heals
What is your message to the next generation of LGBTQ+ people?
It’s so hard because right now in the US we’re seeing some regression in terms of our political standing, so it can be a bit daunting when you think about the next generation.
I would [tell young queer people] trying to always make it a priority to stay hopeful because I think hope is how you move on. And it’s the way forward. And that’s how you bring other people forward with you.
Whatever you can do to keep that hope alive will be your greatest asset. And just remember that there is a community, even if it’s not immediately around you, there is a community out there, and you will eventually find it.
Karina Manta’s memoir On Top Of Glass is available now.
https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/karina-manta-dancing-on-ice-interview-pride_uk_62ab61bae4b0cf43c854107d Dancing On Ice Winner Karina Manta Highlights The Importance Of Queer Joy: ‘It’s Healing’