Backstage at the Marriott Downtown Hotel Philadelphia on Monday afternoon was mayhem as 15 Irish dance teams took to the stage.
They were greeted with a cheer that sent ripples across the Atlantic Ocean.
Screams and cheers were deafening. The atmosphere was electric and so were the smiles on all the girls' faces as
these 15 teams are the best minor ceili dancers in the entire world.
But it was the cheer for the Smith-Houlihan Irish Dance School from New England that was the loudest.
These eight little girls donned in green and black costumes are the new World Champions.
Each of the girls, all under 13 years of age, proudly lifted the cup shaped like a globe with pride and honor.
“We all cried when we found out we came first place,” said Aoife Mannion, while jumping up and down with excitement.
Mairead Doherty described the scene as “intense.”
“Just sitting there watching the results, our hearts were pounding. It was so intense,” she said.
Teachers Noreen Houlihan Smith and her husband Michael Smith are the adults responsible for the young girls winning.
The Smith-Houlihan group beat out 91 other teams from all corners of the earth to earn first prize.
Although the school has had winners in world championships before, this was the first time in six years that the school had entered a ceili dance group.
When asked how much preperation went into the biggest competition of their lives, all eight of the girls groaned in unison.
Said Noreen, “We have literally been rehearsing since August and at the beginning we were practicing two to three times a week and then at the very end it was four or five times a week.”
Isabelle Bongiorno credited her team’s spirit and the way they worked together as being the reason they came out on top of the world on Wednesday.
“We won because we are a unit,” smiled Isabelle.
Mairead Doherty, 12, said she was still in shock that she is holding a golden medal in her hand.
“I still can’t believe it. I think it’s amazing to be this age and be the first place in the world.”
Emily Bamberry said she couldn’t describe the feeling she had.
“I guess it just feels so good to win this trophy. I mean we worked so hard for it and now we have it in our hands,” shared Emily.
While most of the children have already competed in dance competition in Ireland, they have never done so as a group and hope to achieve this dream the next time the worlds are held in Ireland.
Eager to get out from back stage, Kelly Contois said she couldn’t wait to call her best friend Diana to share her good news.
“She is going to be very proud,” beamed Kelly.
Erin Leonard, who has been dancing since she was four, said she is so thankful that her mom got her into Irish dancing and said she plans to be dancing for a very long time.
“I just love it and want to keep doing it,” she said.
To celebrate their win the girls were planning on spending the night having lots of fun in the Marriott hotel where they were staying for the duration of their visit.
Said Brynn Contois, “We will go into the pool as a team to celebrate.”
After the worlds, Molly Mannion tells Irish Central that they will probably take a month or so off and then get back dancing to prepare for nationals.
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