by Anne Calder | Photos by Daphne Backman

The 2019 announcement of the new ice dance partnership of Kana Muramoto & Daisuke Takahashi sent a seismic shock-wave across the skating community. Both had credible resumes, but jump-starting a new career at age 33 was a surprise move by Takahashi. 

At Skate America, IDC caught up with the dancers now in their third season as a team. Stories highlighting their skating journeys were shared, beginning with Muramoto’s discovery of the world of ice dance.

“During college, my body started to mature. I was a little unmotivated because at the same time, my sister retired from skating. We had competed with each other for many years. After she retired, I had a little hole in my heart, like she was gone, and I was not motivated for skating.”

“After the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games, there was an emphasis on the Team Event, so our Federation started to focus a little more on couples. I got invited to an ice dance tryout. It had been a while since I felt skating was fun. I thought I would just try it again, and it was fun. That was the real beginning of me being an ice dancer.”

Coincidentally, this was also a time for Daisuke Takahashi to reflect on his career. In 2002, he won the first men’s World Junior Championship for Japan. For the next decade he was a trailblazer, etching his name in the Olympic and ISU World record books as the first Japanese/Asian man to win numerous medals.

In 2014, Muramoto chose a new career in ice dance. In 2014, Takahashi chose to retire.

Muramoto ice danced with Hiroichi Noguchi in the 2014-2015 season, winning the bronze medal in December at the Japan Championships. Six months later, she and Chris Reed announced their partnership and moved to a training site in Canton, Michigan USA with Marina Zoueva, Oleg Epstein and Massimo Scali.

Takahashi moved to New York City. He left Japan to find himself. He wasn’t sure if figure skating was in his future. He studied English. He even dabbled in floor dance lessons, as a hobby. Eight months later he returned to his homeland, where he performed in a few skating shows.

At age 30, Daisuke Takahashi accepted a new challenge. Cheryl Burke of Dancing with the Stars fame was the creative producer of a new show, “Love on the Floor” to be performed at the Orb Theatre in Tokyo.

Burke was looking for passion, rather than just technical skill in the dancers she was auditioning for the show.  The final cast included eight supporting dancers who were joined by three Olympic gold medalists, Kristi Yamaguchi, Meryl Davis and Charlie White plus silver medalist Daisuke Takahashi.

Burke had high praise for Takahashi, who had no dance experience and had always performed only solo on the ice. She was blown away by his ability to take on such an amazing challenge and grow as an artist. 

Takahashi commented on what he learned while performing in the show that helped him later. “I never had experience with a partner, but at that time, I had to do partnering, which was an adjustment even before dancing on the ice. It was a really good experience.”

He spent the next two years commentating for Japanese television before coming out of retirement in 2018. The beloved athlete confessed that after observing the 2017 National Championships he wanted once again to give skating all his energy, which was missing four years prior when he retired. He once again was looking forward to competition.

In the years while Takahashi was dabbling in various outlets, Muramoto and Reed were competing at the 2016, 2017 and 2018 Four Continents, ISU World Championships and Olympic Winter Games. They were also three-time Japan National gold medalists. 

August 19, 2018 the Japanese media reported that Kana Muramoto & Chris Reed had ended their partnership.

A year later Kana Muramoto & Daisuke Takahashi announced the formation of a new team that would be joining Marina Zoueva’s International Skating Academy at her new location in Estero, Florida.

“I used to watch ice dancing when I was young,” Takahashi told IDC. “Someday I thought I wanted to try ice dance with someone, but not in competition, for fun,” he said.  “After I retired, I did many TV shows before I decided to compete again. Then Kana invited me to do ice dance. I was not sure because I felt old. I was a big fan of Kana as an ice dancer, but she needed to have a partner. She wanted to try with me in ice dance. I was thinking about it for six months.“

Muramoto explained the challenges she faced at the beginning of the partnership.

“He had no idea about ice dance. Chris (Reed) was very tall. Daisuke was not as tall as Chris. So for example doing the lifts, I needed to change how I rotated and moved around him. Skating wise, when we’re together I need to bend more because of the difference in height. It was a big challenge to adjust because I was so used to skating with Chris. 

“Daisuke has a completely different technique. I didn’t want him to change his skating skills to adjust to me because I was a big fan of Daisuke’s skating, and that was the main reason I wanted to experience his skating in my skating world. Kind of like for me it was starting from zero base. I had to rethink myself new to ice dance. That was the hardest for me.”

“For me, everything was hard” Takahashi said, who said he spent a lot of time in the gym working on his upper body.

In 2020, along with the challenges faced by a partnership in its infancy, Muramoto & Takahashi like the rest of the world had to deal with the ravages of Covid-19. The skating community was hit hard with rink closings and event cancellations. 

Only four of the six Grand Prix events were held that fall. Due to international travel restrictions, the entrants were expected to be only skaters training in the host countries. Nevertheless, the new dance team traveled from Florida to Japan to make its debut at NHK.  A month later they were second behind the reigning champions at the Japan Nationals.

The following year, the December 2021 Nationals were the final event in the selection process for the 2022 Winter Olympic team. For the second consecutive year Muramoto & Takahashi were the silver medalists. Afterwards, they were named alternates to the Games. In January, they won silver at Four Continents in Tallinn, Estonia. Two months later they ended the season in Montpelier, France after making their ISU World Championships debut as a team.

In May 2022, 36-year-old Daisuke Takahashi announced that he and Muramoto would return for another season that would include competing at the ISU Grand Prix Series. The team was later invited to Skate America and NHK.

After they committed to a third season, the next step was the creation of a “Latin-themed” Rhythm Dance plus a free dance. Muramoto & Takahashi sat down with Coach Marina Zoueva and her team to strategize music and choreography. 

The skaters chose an up-beat and techno rhythm dance they hoped would excite the audience from beginning to end. So far the choice has generated positive vibes starting with its debut at the August “Friends on Ice” show in Yokohama. 

Coach Marina Zoueva suggested Phantom of the Opera for the free dance. Fifteen years prior, Takahashi skated to the same music in Tokyo when he won Japan’s first silver medal by a male athlete at the 2007 World Championships. Nikolai Morozov’s choreographed closing step sequence still remains a  fan favorite focal point of the program.

“We just love Phantom Of The Opera – the story, the music. It gives me chills,” Muramoto said. “Everything is perfect. I think the emotion just comes naturally. Definitely the music helps. The story is sad with many emotions.  Three weeks ago we went to NYC to see the stage production because it’s going to close next February. It was a perfect chance to go.”

In September, Muramoto & Takahashi faced yet another challenge. They were forced to evacuate their training facility in Fort Myers, Florida when Hurricane Ian devastated the area. After Hertz Arena was turned into a shelter for the storm victims. the team moved across the state to train.

Muramoto revealed that they were living in a hotel before their arrival to Skate America.

“Luckily we did have a place to skate, so everything was ok. Our apartment was ok, but some of our skating teams’ houses were completely destroyed,”

Just before ending our conversation, the team shared with IDC what will probably be their biggest challenge yet, and how it could affect the rest of the season.

“Our main goal this year will take place at Japan Nationals,” Muramoto said. “We really want to be National Champions because last year, it didn’t end well. Of course, there is also Worlds in Saitama.”

Japan Nationals will serve as a qualifying event to determine the one ice dance team who will be assigned to compete at the World Championships in Japan. A face-off between Misato Komatsubara & Tim Koleto and Kana Muramoto & Daisuke Takahashi is expected December 21-25 in Osaka.

Muramoto added, “We’re still new. We’re still learning. We really want to get competition experience together.”

The team finished sixth at both their 2022 Grand Prix Series events – Skate America and NHK. In between, they won their first gold medal as a team at the 2022 Denis Ten Memorial Challenge in Kazakhstan.

In closing, both Muramoto & Takahashi gave a shout out to the Skate America audience, who actually booed disapproval when their sixth place scores were announced.

“The crowd here was amazing. They were cheering. It was like home. It motivated us. We want to say, “Thank You.”