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There’s Something About Mary Murphy

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There's something special about Mary Murphy

By: Kristen Turner
Courtesy of FOX & Mary Murphy, Allen Carrasco

Spend five minutes with Mary Murphy and you will see what has landed her a judge’s spot on So You Think You Can Dance. Her passion for dancing and her zest for sharing the art with others is so contagious, you can’t help but want to jump on the Hot Tamale Train with her! We had the opportunity to spend the day with the “Queen of Scream” and we had to agree with her fans… There is just something special about Mary Murphy.

Dancing Her Way to the Top

Born in Lancaster, Ohio, the always athletic Mary Murphy spent her childhood and teenage years engaging in a range of sports from basketball to football but track and field was her favorite. She competed from junior high school through college excelling at the 400 meter and later went on to obtain her degree in Physical Education from Ohio University. Post-graduation, Mary moved to Washington D.C., where she landed a position as a trainee at a dance studio. Mary quickly developed an affinity for this graceful art. After a trip to the United States Ballroom Championships in New York City, she was hooked. Having Mary Murphy decided that dance was more than just a summer job, Mary sought out some of the best dance instructors to begin her training in competitive dance. Her search for a dance partner brought her across the country to sunny Southern California, where she later opened her dance studio. “I ended up going back to Ohio about two times and by the third visit, I just never went back,” Mary says.

It wasn’t long before Mary and dance partner, Manfred Stiglitz, started competing in Europe, representing Austria as the national champion. Mary commuted back and forth to England leaving her life and dance studio in California behind. Despite the promise of placing in the top six in the world, Mary and Manfred eventually parted ways when Manfred gave Mary an ultimatum to move to England for good or dissolve their partnership. She decided to return to her San Diego studio and the rest, is as they say, history.

Mary went on to build an impressive list of accomplishments with various partners including the Southwest Regional Dance Tournament, the Saint Louis Star Ball and the International Grand Ball. With partner Bill Milner, Mary made the U.S. Open Standard final in an unprecedented six months’ time. Finally, in 1996, Mary Murphy and partner Jim Desmond made the final of the U.S. Open American Smooth and won the U.S. Open American Nine Dance.

“I wasn’t the most talented person. It took a lot of perseverance and determination.”

After retiring from competitive dance, Mary shifted her focus toward her dance studio. Today, Mary organizes one of the most successful dance competitions in the world, the Holiday Dance Classic that happens the second week of every December in Las Vegas, NV, and the Hollywood Dancesport Championships the first weekend in November. She frequently serves as a judge in some of ballroom’s most reputable competitions, including the U.S. National Ballroom Championship. And, of course, she can still be found on Champion Ballroom Academy’s expansive floor passing on her enthusiasm and love of dance to her students.

Queen of Scream

In 2005, while being screen tested as a judge on Dancing with the Stars, fate took its course and landed Mary in another TV role. Mary was offered a role as judge/choreographer on Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance. By the third season, Mary was made a permanent judge alongside producer/judge Nigel Lythgoe.  mary murphy queen of scream Those who have tuned in to So You Think You Can Dance know why Mary received the nickname, the “Queen of Scream.” Her emotional commentary and vocal antics coupled with her enthusiasm for dancing have been her distinguishing characteristics over the past nine seasons. And while there have been plenty of numbers that make her scream, there have also been a handful of dances that have brought tears to the judge’s eyes.

“The number that touched me most was the number on breast cancer choreographed by Tyce Diorio. It did receive an EMMY© and it was simply amazing.” In addition to So You Think You Can Dance, Mary has also appeared in the movie Something to Talk About, working as a dance double for Julia Roberts, and Dance With Me, starring Vanessa L. Williams.

A Ballroom for Champions

So you think you can dance In April of 1990, Mary opened the doors to Champion Ballroom Academy, San Diego’s premier dance studio. For over a decade, Champion Ballroom has won top studio awards in many major competitions while providing practical dance instruction to people of all levels.

When asked what inspired her in the creation of Champion Ballroom Academy, Mary shares, “I was dreaming about having my own studio and what I had seen in the last few years and what would be the best conditions for high level ballroom dancing.”

Whether you have never tried dancing before or are an advanced dancer, their friendly, patient and experienced team of instructors-many of which who are competitive dance champions- is dedicated to helping their students polish their dance skills and have fun in the process.

“Champion Ballroom was my field of Dreams”

Mary says adding, “If you build it, they will come and man, did they ever!” Champion Ballroom Academy also offers special lessons for engaged couples looking to add some style to their first dance as husband and wife. We have a lot of people that like to come for their first dance, learn a specialized choreographed number and then lay it all out on the dance floor,” Mary says. And for those looking to dance their way to a firmer physique, the studio also offers a popular Core Rhythms class developed by Latin Dance champions and ideal for whittling the waistline. As a San Diego business owner, Mary does her part to give back to the community. About five years ago, Mary launched “Chance to Dance,” teaming up with the local San Diego school district to bring dancing to the classroom. Her vision with the “Chance to Dance” program is to make dance a regular part of the students’ curriculum which results in not only exercise, but exposure to culture and the arts as well. Many of these children would not otherwise have the opportunity to pursue dance as many of the students come from impoverished neighborhoods. Mary offers up her time, expertise and dance studio to teach the teachers everything from the foxtrot to merengue and they in turn train their students. “What I love about the program is that we get the teachers involved and not just the gym teacher. It could be the principal, the vice principal, the supervisor…Everybody at the school has the chance to dance.”

Visit for more information about Mary’s dance studio or check out to stay connected!

Champion Ballroom Academy Offerings:

  • Nightclub dances such as Salsa, Swing, Lindy, and Argentine Tango
  • International Latin: Rumba, Paso Doble, Jive, Samba and Cha Cha
  • American Rhythm Dances: Bolero American Rumba, Swing, Mambo
  • American Smooth Dances: Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango, Viennese Waltz
  • International Standard: Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, and Quickstep

Champion Ballroom Academy also offers special lessons for engaged couples looking to add some style to their first dance as husband and wife.


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