By Jane Fries for The Dance Journal | photo credit: Chelsea Hoy
Ali Doughty grew up in the western suburbs of Philadelphia, and like many local girls and boys took up an early interest in Irish dancing. After years of training at the McDade-Cara School of Irish Dance (first in Havertown and then in Edgemont), she went on to become a championship competitor. Now with her days of competition behind her, Doughty has joined the Chicago-based Trinity Irish Dance Company and will be performing with the group at the Joyce Theater in New York City on January 12th and 13th. It’s been sixteen years since Trinity last appeared at the Joyce, so this will be a rare opportunity to catch Doughty, a Philly success story, dancing with this renowned company.
Doughty began studying at the McDade-Cara School when she was eight years old and soon began racking up competitive awards, including 1st place in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Oireachtas in 2011. Sheila Sweeney, who was Doughty’s teacher at the McDade-Cara School, recalled that Doughty “was hard-working and dedicated. She has a beautiful, natural style of dancing, and she can probably jump higher than anyone I know.”
Doughty earned three more 1st places in the Mid-West Regional Oireachtas (2012-2104) when she moved to Ohio to attend college. In a recent interview, Doughty said she loved competing because of “the adrenaline rush you get when you practice something for so long and then you nail it on stage.”
Close on the heels of her regional championships, Doughty “nailed it” on the international level – winning both the All-Scotland Championships in Glasgow and the World Championships of Irish Dance in London in 2014. Even more than winning the awards, however, Doughty said she values the opportunities she had to travel and form friendships with people from around the world.
After graduating from college, Doughty moved to Chicago and was invited to become a member of the Trinity Irish Dance Company. Founded in 1990 by Choreographer/Artistic Director Mark Howard, TIDC is the birthplace of progressive Irish dance, and is widely credited for influencing commercial productions such as “Riverdance.” According to the Chicago Tribune’s Rick Kogan, “Lord of the Dance and Riverdance owe a lot to Trinity Irish Dancers… [They] are Trinity’s “glitzy commercial cousins: Disney on Ice compared to the Bolshoi Ballet.”
The internationally acclaimed Trinity company features a singular style of dance that is rooted in tradition yet forward-looking and new. In a recent interview, Howard said that Trinity is focused on presenting substance rather than spectacle, and pushing to see where the art form can go. “We’re trying to save Irish Dance from becoming a commercial circus,” said Howard.
Trinity’s Joyce Theater appearance will feature the world premiere of Soles, a rhythmic study of two-time signatures, choreographed by Howard. The hard-driving percussive piece is accompanied by a single electric guitar and drum and spotlights the dancers’ intense and virtuosic footwork. Howard noted that Doughty, in her short time in the company, has become a leader and was part of the creative process of making this dance. “She’s an essential part of the future of our company,” said Howard.
For Doughty, dancing with a performing arts company is very different from dancing in competitions. Trinity works with contemporary choreographers who are pushing the art form of Irish dance. “We still do the traditional footwork, but we use a lot more of our upper-bodies,” explained Doughty. “It’s a lot harder than competing – a whole new level of Irish dancing that I had to get used to.”
Trinity Irish Dance Company will appear at the Joyce Theater as part of the American Dance Platform festival series. In addition to the world premiere of Soles, Doughty will dance in three other works: Communion (choreography by Howard and Sandy Silva), a synthesis of body percussion and Irish step dancing, Black Rose (choreography by Howard), a dance featuring drumming that pulls out all the stops, and Curran Event (choreography by former Bill T. Jones dancer and current chair of NYU’s dance department Sean Curran), a “girls in the schoolyard” celebration.
When Doughty began dancing as a young girl at the McDade-Cara School, it would have been unlikely to predict that she would someday win a World Championship of Irish Dance and tour the globe with a highly respected professional company. It will be well worth the trip up to NYC to lay eyes upon Doughty, a triumphant locally-trained dancer, performing at the peak of her craft.
Doughty’s McDade-Cara School teacher Sweeney said “to achieve a World Championship is the biggest accomplishment you can have in Irish competitive dance, but I’m excited to see her perform in a non-competitive setting. I’m bringing my two daughters because I want them to see Irish dance outside of the competitive world.”
The art form of Irish dance is about power and grace, and Doughty has “a combination of both qualities,” said Trinity’s Artistic Director Howard. “Her dance chops are obvious, but she also makes you feel comfortable and you find yourself smiling,” he continued. “She makes her way into your heart.”
Trinity Irish Dance Company
January 12 at 8 pm and January 13 at 2 pm
The Joyce Theater