by TJ Carey
The Skating Club of Boston is no stranger to ice dancing. Longtime fans of the sport may recall the strength of the city’s couples during the 6.0 judging era. However, it was around the transition to the current International Judging System that ice dancing in Boston slowly lost its commanding influence in the United States to the point at which high level dance seemed to be a thing of the past at the club. Ever since the retirement of Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus in 2017, the Skating Club of Boston has lacked a strong dance presence on the national scene.
Michael Bramante looks to change that.
But the idea of him being in a position to spark a second wave of ice dancing in Boston happened relatively by chance. At the age of 4, he began skating when his best friend’s sister was told by her doctor to do a sport like skating to strengthen her weak ankles.
“It’s one of those things that I just started and never stopped,” Bramante said.
Once he was 7, he began skating more than once a week to train in freestyle, progressing to get all of his double jumps, excluding the axel. While at the time he knew how much he loved to skate, he was also aware of the competition he faced from the other skaters in New England at the time.
“I grew up right around the same time as Ross [Miner] and Stephen [Carriere], so I saw them doing triples and I was like ‘I’m far from there.’”
It was at a summer skating camp in the town of Lake Placid, New York, a place where many skaters recall some of their fondest memories in the sport being, where Bramante’s fate in the sport changed. When a group of friends of his asked him to skate on an ice dancing session, he decided to give it a try.
“I skated around with them and I was like, ‘This is kind of fun!’”
That was only the beginning of a long road of ice dancing ahead of him. Upon returning to Boston, he decided to start taking private lessons in dance. Not long after, he began skating with his first partner, Crystal Parisek, and they were coached by Dawn Ponte-Jarvis and Dmitri Kazarlyga in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The couple qualified for the Junior National Championships two years in a row before their partnership ended. Following that, Michael began skating with his next partner, Susan Enright. He also switched coaches to Hilary Gibbons and Justin Pekarek, and his training experience at the Skating Club of Boston began. After a second place finish at the Intermediate level at the 2008 US Junior National Championships and a following season at the novice level, Enright and Bramante split, and Bramante decided that after graduating high school he would leave his home state and move his training to Michigan.
While Bramante planned on training under Igor Shpilband in Canton, as he did when he had time during school vacations and long weekends, fate had a different plan for him. After a series of tryouts, Michael’s partner search led him to Kaitlin Hawayek, who was still living and going to school in Buffalo, New York at the time. The skaters planned a training schedule in which Hawayek would commute to Michigan to train from Thursday to Sunday every week, but Shpilband’s strict no weekend training policy at the time prevented them from doing that. The solution was to train under Hawayek’s coaches, Pasquale Camerlengo and Angelika Krylova, at the Detroit Skating Club.
Following success in the novice and junior national ranks and strong finishes on the junior grand prix circuit, Bramante moved up to the senior level in his new partnership with Isabella Cannuscio and took his training to Delaware for two seasons. However, his hope to return to international competition led him to look for a skater from a country with more opportunities to compete on the world stage. As a result, he partnered up with Peroline Ojardias, representing France. The couple split their training time between Marina Zoueva’s group in Michigan and the training base of Muriel Zazoui and Olivier Schoenelder in Lyon, France.
It was at this point in his career, after being established as one of France’s top ice dancers, when Bramante felt it was the right time to end his competitive experience. This thought of retiring from competition came at a time when he knew that to be one of the world’s top couples, he had to train harder than he ever had before.
“We had to climb our way up the ladder [in order to gain success on the world stage], and in order to do that you have to really want the flight, and the fight is giving everything you’ve got training wise,” Bramante explained.
Competing for France during the beginning of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron‘s era of near-total dominance on the international circuit, Bramante knew their success would qualify more spots for their country at the European Championships, World Championships and the Olympics, which was a big incentive to represent the nation. However, after getting the news that he would not be able to gain French citizenship in time for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, he felt this was the final spark that made him decide to officially retire.
Bramante moved back to the U.S., knowing he wanted to go into coaching. He chose to do so back in Boston, where his family and former training center were. It was at the Skating Club of Boston where he began to develop his new project, the Boston Ice Dance Academy.
“I’ve had a lot of experience at a lot of different training facilities, and I want to take those experiences and take the positives from different ones and build them into a cohesive training program and training facility, both for developmental and elite [couples] as well.”
Bramante takes particular direction from each of his past training centers for the purpose of creating an environment in which skaters can push themselves, knowing they have the support of their training mates.
To do this, he developed a coaching team in which each individual’s strengths can be best used to benefit the skaters. coach Alex Shaughnessy Ronzio, longtime U.S. pairs competitor and 2016 US International Classic bronze medalist, fulfills the role of a coach with experience in spins and other pair elements. Bryna Oi, 2011 Japanese national champion in ice dancing and 2013 Four Continents Championships competitor, adds to the team with her experience in the lady’s role of partnering.
“I was looking for individuals who had areas of expertise in certain places and to be able to use those strengths collaboratively to then build a more comprehensive program.”
While Michael is incredibly pleased with the team he currently has for BIDA, he is very excited about the program’s potential.
Zachary Donohue, two-time U.S. champion and two-time world medalist with partner Madison Hubbell, has been occasionally visiting the club to work with the skaters and help foster a competitive training environment for ice dancers.
“It’s great to work with him, I think for everybody working with him. Myself, coaching with him, and then also for all the students to get his expertise, because he’s pretty good. He’s pretty good (laughs).”
Bramante is also looking forward to the Skating Club of Boston’s transition from its current one ice sheet facility to a state of the art training center outside the city in Norwood, Massachusetts. The new building, which is set to be fully constructed by this summer, will include an Olympic-sized rink that will be able to seat 2,500 spectators, as well as two NHL sized rinks. The facility will include large spaces for off-ice training and conditioning along with spaces dedicated to member-only upstairs seating and dining, studying or doing work, and displaying the club’s illustrious past with a history wall.
“Being able to have that at our disposal is what you look for as a coach. Being able to partner with a club that can provide this for us is great. It’s going to benefit everybody from developmental skaters all the way up through elite skaters.”
Beyond coaching competitive dance couples, Bramante also coaches singles skaters and synchronized skaters in stroking and skating skills, as well as teaching group classes over the summer and partnering with skaters for testing their dances. Bramante is also the head coach of the Skating Club of Boston’s novice-level theatre on ice team, Encore of Boston. They are the reigning U.S. National champions and winners of the 2019 Nations Cup competition, the most prestigious international competition in the discipline. He and his fellow coaches, Shaughnessy Ronzio and Oi, are also current competitors on the club’s senior-level team, Forte of Boston, competing alongside fellow national and international competitors as well as former professional skaters.
While skaters are not able to train at ice rinks due to the current COVID-19 epidemic, Michael has organized online zoom classes so that his own students, and even any other skaters interested in taking classes, can still participate in off-ice training in a group environment from home. He uses these classes to put a focus on skills skaters may not normally have the time to work on. Shaughnessy Ronzio leads a stretching class every day, as Michael has always been a big believer in the benefits of having both splits, as well as spin and jump class. To work on body lines and balance, Oi teaches ballet. Skaters also get to take dance classes from Donohue and 2019 NHK Trophy champion Jean-Luc Baker to gain experience with a variety of different styles of movement and expression.
“We’re very happy and excited to have a great repertoire of teachers with the likes of Zachary Donohue and Jean-Luc Baker teaching the BIDA skaters while we are off the ice. We have been using this time to the best of our ability to hone our dance skills before we venture back onto the ice.”
Whether it be a competitive ice dancer, a freestyle skater who needs help with their footwork, a synchro skater looking to perfect their European Waltz, or a competitor on a theatre on ice team, Michael has a similar goal for all of his skaters: to take the passion a skater has for the sport and use it to get them to reach their goals.
“That’s kind of what I see as my role as a coach, to provide ultimately what the skater wants out of the sport, and to be able to be there in the most supportive fashion I can, and then also to be there as not only a coach but also a mentor to all of my students that I work with.”