Meet the New Mary from Dungloe
The latest Philadelphia Mary from Dungloe knows how to get to Carnegie Hall. Meagan McGough performed there for five years and discovered, as the old joke goes, the secret is to “practice, practice, practice.”
From the time she was 10 till she was 15, this award-winning Irish step dancer and her parents, John and Barbara, traveled to the Bronx every Sunday after church–four hours up, four hours back from their home in Downingtown– where she would rehearse the routine she performed in an annual show with the late Irish tenor Frank Patterson.
Ranked third nationally among US step dancers, Meagan, who performs with the DeNogla School in Verona, NJ, came in third place at the All-Ireland Championships two years ago–on her 18th birthday. “It’s always the beginning of July so I’m always dancing on my birthday, which is July 6” she laughs. “I guess it’s good luck.”
But her luck hasn’t always been “of the Irish.” She excels in an art form where you break bones almost as often as a linebacker. Meagan has fractured her foot three times since she started dancing at the age of 5. “It’s always been my left foot too,” she says with a wince. “I even danced at the world championships with a broken foot. I just kept wrapping it and taking Vioxx. I broke it the week before the competition and I figured the ticket was booked, the hotel was paid for, and I was going to go. I made it to the last eight bars of the song and didn’t stop but I definitely made a mistake. At World you have to be flawless, the best of the best. Afterwards, I put a cast on my foot.”
Which tells you a lot about Meagan McGough. Challenge? Bring it on! A marketing major at Fordham University, Meagan took a summer job last year that’s sent her in another career direction, one not for the faint of heart. “I got a call over Easter break from an oral surgeon at last year from The Main Line Oral and Facial Surgery Center in Exton,” she explains. “I thought I was going in to interview for a receptionists’ job. I always had interest in the sciences and those gory things, and thought this is so cool. “
It got cooler. They didn’t want her to be their receptionist. They wanted to offer her a surgical assistant internship. She wouldn’t be answering the phones. She’d be assisting in oral surgery–doing suction, helping with IVs, suturing, administering medication. “I thought I’d be wearing suits every day,” she laughs. “Instead, I was wearing scrubs and masks. I loved it. In fact the experience inspired me to go on the medical track at Fordham and go to medical school one day.”
But she didn’t want to give up her marketing major. So she went to the dean of the business school and worked out a plan that allows her to pursue her business degree with a minor in science. “Instead of taking the liberal arts or fun courses in addition to the business classes, I’m on the premedical track which is more challenging than the core courses. When I’m a senior I’ll have most of the prerequisites I need for medical school, though I may have to take summer classes.”
There’s a method to this madness. She thinks her marketing skills will marry well with her medical skills if she’s able to work with Operation Smile, a nonprofit, volunteer organization that provides medical treatment to children in Third World countries born with facial deformities, like cleft lips, that often leave them ostracized in their communities. Its secondary mission: to raise awareness–and money. Irish actress Roma Downey is the international spokesperson for the organization. “I’m going to be interning again this summer and with that extra experience I can apply to work with them next year,” says Meagan.
And in the middle of all this, she’ll be competing in Ireland at the end of July into early August in the International Mary from Dungloe pageant in Donegal. She hadn’t even considered entering the local competition, which is sponsored by the Donegal Association of Philadelphia. The free trip to Ireland? She’s been traveling to Ireland since she was very young, mainly with her maternal grandparents, Ed and Dolores Brennan of New Jersey, who paid for her step dancing lessons and chaperoned her to international competitions. In fact, it wouldn’t have occurred to her to enter if a Donegal Association member hadn’t approached her on St. Patrick’s Day, after she’d done an impromptu “Irish dance battle” with a six-year-old boy during her family celebration at The Plough and the Stars in Philadelphia. (No doubt dazzled by this redhead with flawless skin and sparkling dark eyes who can dance the heck out of a jig.)
“Grace Flanagan, the sister of Theresa Flanagan Murtagh who is the president of the Donegal Association, came up to me and asked me if I’d be interested in entering,” says Meagan. “So my Dad and I went down to the Irish Center and I applied. I really didn’t expect to win. They were all incredible girls. But I’m really excited. I’ve never done a pageant before and even though I’ve been to Ireland so many times, I’m excited about experiencing a whole different aspect of the culture. When you’re dancing in competition, any spare time you have you’re practicing. ”
It won’t be her only trip either. She’ll be competing at the 38th World Irish Championship in Belfast over Easter break in 2008, but for the last time. (The World Championships come to Philadelphia the following year.) “After this World, I’m hanging up my shoes,” she says. “I’m getting certified as a teacher, and as successful as I’ve been as a dancer, I think I’ll be an excellent coach. In fact, I might even be a better coach.”
She’s already the mentor of a younger dancer whose dream was to place in the Irish nationals. “I worked hard with her and she placed 35th, which is a huge deal for her,” says Meagan. “I’m finding it more rewarding to work with kids and see them grow as individuals and see them win. I’ve learned to love the spotlight. Now I’m learning to love the behind the scenes stuff. But this is my last year in the spotlight.” She grins. “I guess I’m going out with a bang.”
Check out Meagan’s competition at the recent Mary from Dungloe Pageant held at the Irish Center.