Mary Murphy still hasn’t been asked back to SYTYCD; her choreography will be “different”

Where is Mary Murphy? What happened to Mary Murphy on So You Think You Can Dance? Why is Mary Murphy not on SYTYCD?

Every Wednesday and Thursday night, these are the kinds of questions people search for, and they end up at my interview with her, in which she revealed that this season, she’s “back in the pool” of choreographers and guest judges, who “have to sit there and wait” for an invite that usually comes only two weeks before the show. If they’re available, they’re scheduled.

So far this season, Mary hasn’t appeared once during the live shows, though she participated in final round of judging. Today, she wrote on Twitter, “I’d love to judge #SYTYCD again!” and added that she “didn’t ‘leave’ SYTYCD. I’d <3 to judge again if they call & I’m available. Miss you too!”

Why has she been away, and what is she doing with all of her time? In May, her San Diego studio Champion Ballroom had its 20th anniversary. “As the years of the show have gone on, I became busier and busier,” she told me when we talked last month, so “this year, I will fight for a little bit more balance in my life.” Last year, between two US seasons, the Canadian and Australian versions, and other work, she spent just four days at her studio. “That was the craziest year of my life,” she told me. Mary said she has “a lot of pride” in those who’ve trained at her studio, and she said, “we have so many children now, thanks to television shows, that want to start ballroom. Dancing with the Stars “has been a big plus for my business.”

And dance TV shows have brought ballroom attention worldwide. “Wherever I go in the world now,” she said, “they know what a quick step is, they know what a waltz, they talk passionately about the contestants and talk passionately about the dances. Seven years ago, if I’d said ‘quick step’ to somebody, nobody knew what the heck I was talking about. I never thought I’d live long enough to see this kind of reality.” Mary told me that, less than 10 years ago, she’d tell people she did ballroom dancing and they’d say, “What bar do you work at?” And when she corrected that and said she taught dance, they’d reply, “But what do you do for a real living? No, no, I teach dancing for a real living. That was the way it was for most of my career. I’m so grateful that I was able to be part of this whole wave of change in the dance industry, and then for myself to be able to dance on Broadway at the end of my career like this, it doesn’t get any better than that. When I was growing up, we would never even dream of being on Broadway as a ballroom dancer. … That was not a possibility. Now you have a whole Broadway show.”

Mary’s signature scream may make her seem over the top on TV, but she’s incredibly humble about her TV career. “You definitely lose a different bit of privacy, but for myself, finding that kind of success late in life, I’ve been very, very grateful. When I’m in some remote place and they’ve figured out who I am … that brings me the greatest amount of joy, I can’t tell you.”

It’s also allowed her to dance herself, although that’s had some consequences. “When I danced on Broadway–to dance again, which I didn’t even think my body could do, and certainly it took a beating. I’m definitely going to have to a couple of operations, not necessarily because of the Broadway show, but they were things in my dance career. I do have a tumor in my right foot that’s still getting bigger and has to be addressed. I got a hernia five days into rehearsals; at some point I’m going to have the hernia surgery.”

She’s “rejoining the cast in September” for the national tour of Burn the Floor, and said, “I’d also like to have a personal life,” noting that she hadn’t seen her family in two and a half years. (As she said in the first part of our interview, not being full-time this season was a mutual decision.) There are other things that are import to her, too. “Ever since breaking my silence over my domestic violence abuse, I’ve been helping as many people as I can, and working with the shelters in San Diego,” she said. “I’m in a position that I know I can make a difference with it now. Everybody has to come forward or break their silence at their own time, at their own pace. …There’s help if they want to make the move. When I was going through it, there wasn’t really the shelters they have today, it wasn’t talked about on television shows. It was everyone’s dirty little secret.”

I asked if that would influence the dances she choreographs for the show, and she said, “I’m sure at some point, and I don’t know if it’ll be this season that I’ll be able to go in that direction. I have some other things in my mind that I would like to choreograph. I’d like to work with some cutting edge technology. I want to do something a little different than” seasons one or two. “I think everybody likes to grow.”

Let’s hope that So You Think You Can Dance gives her the chance to do that, and her schedule allows.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.