Hot Tamale Train. Any fan of "So You Think You Can Dance" knows judge Mary Murphy's tradmark phrase (followed by her glass-shattering scream!). It sums up Murphy's energy and enthusiasm for dance. This season, the "SYTYCD" mainstay is moving from the judges table to the rehearsal room (she'll still be a guest judge), working as a choreographer for the show's group numbers—which should be pretty awesome considering Murphy's long and successful career as a professional dancer.
A multiple-time ballroom champion, Murphy was actually a latecomer to dance. She was born in Lancaster, OH, and, with three brothers, she was a tried-and-true tomboy. She took her first dance class when she went to college at Ohio University, where she minored in modern dance. After graduating, she moved to Washington D.C., where she answered a newspaper ad posted by a studio looking to train dance instructors. That studio owner invited Murphy to attend the United States Ballroom Championships in NYC, which ended up being a life-changing experience.
This weekend, Murphy is throwing a gala to celebrate the 20th anniversary of her studio, Champion Ballroom Academy in San Diego, CA. In honor of this landmark occasion, DS asked her to share her most memorable career highlights.
1. Being invited to the U.S. Ballroom Championships at the Waldorf Hotel in NYC: "This was the ultimate fork in the road. When I first saw ballroom dancing, saw two people dancing beautifully together, I knew immediately that's what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I did my research and started charting my course."
2. Winning the Austrian National Title with partner Manfred Stiglitz: "This was such a big moment. But it left me feeling a little weird, because at the Waldorf I said to myself, 'I want to be the United States champion.' Hearing the Austrian national anthem didn't feel right."
3. Becoming a U.S. Champion in 1996 with partner Jim Desmond: "It was something I had wanted all those years. I'm very goal oriented and I have extreme perservance. After winning, I retired the next day!"
4. Opening Champion Ballroom Academy in 1990: "I wanted to have a space because I was dancing International standard, which requires a big floor. I said, 'I want to build it and have other dancers come here and rehearse,' and that's exactly what happened."
5. "So You Think You Can Dance": "It was the weirdest thing. They called me up and auditioned me over the telephone. After four or five conversations, without even meeting in person, I was on the show! I might not have even looked like the photos on my website!"
6. Guest starring on Broadway in Burn the Floor: "When they called me to do this, I almost fell off my chair! During my career as a ballroom dancer, we never had these opportunities. It's come so far. I didn't take one second on that stage for granted. I was fully present and I gave it everything I had. It warmed my heart because everytime I stepped on stage the crowd went nuts."
Photo courtesy Mary Murphy