Ali Doughty discovered in April that, despite the old saying, sometimes the seventh time is the charm.
The 20-year-old University of Dayton student had qualified for six other World Irish Dance Championships before finally, in London, carrying home the big silver trophy as the number one Irish dancer in the world in the ladies 20-21 category.
As she stood in the ballroom with the other contestants and her mother at the Hilton London Metropole Hotel, she saw the results flash on the screen and was, she admits, “in shock.”
“I couldn’t believe it,” says Ali, who, when she’s not at college studying for a degree in exercise physiology, lives with her family—Dad Bill, mother Cassandra, and siblings Bill, Luke, John, and Mary Cate—in Havertown.
She probably shouldn’t have been surprised. Last year, when the Worlds were held in Boston, she came in second. The year before, in Belfast, she came in third. Despite the near misses, going into the competition she had only one goal: “Well, just try not to mess up,” she says, laughing. “There’s a lot of work going into it, trying to balance dance and school so there was a lot of time management involved. I just tried not to think about the pressure.”
On Sunday, along with her family, her dance friends and her personal trainer Angela Mohan, Ali was celebrated at a party at The Plough and the Stars in Philadelphia that was arranged by Mohan, who brought champagne bearing custom labels with Ali’s name (though the dancer wasn’t planning to have any) to sit on either side of the Worlds trophy, which Ali keeps for a year.
Ali started Irish dancing when she was eight. “My mom wanted me to explore my Irish heritage so she signed me up for dance lessons at McDade Cara School of Irish Dance [in Delaware County],” she says. She was hooked from the first hornpipe.
“I loved it. I love the music, I love the rhythm and all the people,” she says. “All my friends in the Irish dance world are great. Some of my closest friends are from Irish dance.”
Since she’s living in Dayton most of the year, she joined a dance school there, The Academy, where her instructors are Ed Searle and Byron Puttle. She continues to rely on Mohan for fitness training, even from afar. “She’s so great and so funny,” says Ali of the former coach of the national champion Mairead Farrells Ladies Gaelic Football Club of Philadelphia. “She never lets you get away with anything.”
Despite being a world traveler—Ali has also competed in Glasgow, Scotland, and Dublin—Ali says she doesn’t really get to see much of the cities she’s visited. “It’s usually so hectic that I might only have a day to look around. Usually I’m in the venue the whole time.”
She has spent non-dance time with her grandmother’s family in Dun Laoghaire, near Dublin, and actually spent two weeks with Ireland visiting with a friend’s family. “But we still had to practice Irish dancing while we were there so I don’t know if that counts,” she laughs.
View more photos from Ali’s party.