Ballroom dancing seemed to be trapped in a time warp. It was serious and complicated dancing that your grandparents did, not something that today’s kids would be interested in. But with the success of So You Think you Can Dance?, Dancing With The Stars and Mad Hot Ballroom becoming one of the top 10 grossing documentary films ever, it seems that the world of foxtrots, tangos and waltzes is back in fashion.
Mary Murphy is one of the judges and choreographers on So You Think You Can Dance? and although she retired from competitive dancing in 1996 after becoming US champion and runs the Champion Ballroom Academy in San Diego, coming to Los Angeles was a new experience for her. While she was having her nails done, we spoke to Mary and asked her about her experiences filming the show at the CBS Studios:
“Ballroom is very much a subculture – studios, competitions, judging – and I used to dance all over the world. I would spend two months in San Diego, then two months in London, then back again. But L.A. seems like such a big city, and even though San Diego is large, it doesn’t feel that way at all”.
Mary hasn’t quite “found her feet” in L.A. yet, but friends have visited from San Diego and New York and she has sampled some of the restaurants:
“I have been to some lovely places. Koi was one, and then Nigel’s (Lythgoe, one of the show’s producers) favorite restaurant. Fox got me an apartment near The Grove, so I go there a lot too. I still get lost in the car too easily, but that did lead me to spend a wonderful day on the beach in Malibu”.
The hardest thing has been the infamous traffic:
“I’m certainly not used to it. When I came here after so many years living in San Diego, when I only really drove to and from my studio, it was pretty hard for me. I never had to drive in the rush hour before either, so that was a real wake-up call! What people do every day in the rush hour, just to get to work! It was a shock to me”.
Mary has had a number of brushes with Los Angeles and Hollywood before, working as choreographer, dance coach and even as a body double for Julia Roberts in the movie Something To Talk About. Even so, she believes that luck played a part in her becoming one of the Judges on the show:
“I had a great reputation in San Diego and had kept the studio going for years, which can be very hard in itself, I can tell you. But I had done some movie work, and then after one of the original judges dropped out to be a judge on Dancing With The Stars, they already knew me and liked me. But it was still a case of ‘right place, right time'”.
The show has changed her daily life in other ways as well:
“Kids come up and bust a move in front of me in the street, and then last week I was in the gym and someone asked me for my autograph – I couldn’t believe it! I also recently ended up dancing at (host of Dancing With The Stars) Lauren Sanchez’s wedding. On the very next table to me were Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, and Hugh Jackman even got up and sang a song! I thought I’d have to pinch myself to make sure that this was all really happening, and not just a dream!”
As for the future, Mary wants to visit Ireland:
“Ballroom dancing is so popular around the world. There’s the English, the Italians, the USA, Germany and Japan, but there’s only one major championship in Ireland, and I am working on being a judge of the next contest. I may even take my own troupe of dancers over there to tour as well. I’d really love to visit Ireland: it’s my dream”.
Mary has never visited before, and has relatives there she wants to finally meet:
“My mother was born in Dublin and bought up at St Joseph’s Orphanage, and she married an RAF soldier she met an amusement park in England. After their first child was born – my eldest brother – they moved to Ohio. She died a few years ago, and I really wish I had visited there with her”.
Ironically, when Mary gets the inevitable requests to dance, she will have to make a confession:
“The joke is that I can’t Irish dance at all! My cousins in Warminster, Pennsylvania, all Irish dance competitively, but I just can’t do it. They always laugh themselves to death when I try! But ballroom dancing is really hard too. Although it’s hard not to root for the underdog on the show, and the prize (an apartment in New York and $100,000) is an amazing opportunity, it’s much harder than people ever think – like a marathon”.
But as far as Mary is concerned, the best thing about the show is the resurgence of interest in ballroom dancing, and could lead to a permanent move to Los Angeles:
“I’d like to work more in L.A., and I would be open to moving here. I’m ready for a change in my life”.