'America's Ballroom Challenge' Host Mary Murphy Hands Out Hot Tamale Train Tickets

Breanne L. Heldman
New York Bureau Chief, Yahoo Entertainment

Mary Murphy has officially gone from So You Think You Can Dance to people who unquestionably can dance on PBS’s America’s Ballroom Challenge. This time, the judge famous for her loud screams and putting dancers on the “Hot Tamale Train” won’t be sitting idly by as the hotsteppers shake it to be named the best cross-dance champion — she’ll be hosting. But if you think you’ve seen outstanding ballroom dance on television before, prepare to think again.

“On So You Think You Can Dance, most of the time you’re seeing two people who have never ballroom danced, and it’s kind of all smoke and mirrors,” Murphy tells Yahoo TV. “Honestly, they can edit everything to get the best vantage of every step. And Dancing With the Stars is the same thing, too — you’re dancing with a celebrity, sometimes they have danced, sometimes no dance. For these people [on America’s Ballroom Challenge], dance is their life. They are professionals at the highest level. You will see the best of the best.”

In other words, pretty much every sequin-covered pair battling in the American Smooth, American Rhythm, International Standard, and International Latin styles already has a ticket on the aforementioned Hot Tamale Train. Throughout the course of our chat, Mary gave us the ticket status of a few other dance-related people and pop-culture phenomena.

RIDER: Derek Hough
“Julianne and Derek are about as good as you’re going to get,” Murphy said. “Derek, especially, I’ve been watching that kid since he was 7 years old. For me, the pinnacle was that Argentine Tango the other night [on Dancing With the Stars]. I just was so impressed with him. There was just such maturity about him. I feel like I’m seeing him as a young man now, as opposed to looking at him always as a kid.”

RIDER: Stephen “tWitch” Boss
“I’m not really surprised [about tWitch’s success], but he’s now in Magic Mike XXL and going up into superstardom! It’s going to be so cool for all of us [from SYTYCD] to sit there like proud parents. We had something to do with that because honestly, without these kind of talent shows, they would be dancing on the street, most likely. … When tWitch was in Las Vegas for his third time trying out and we were almost to the last day in Vegas, we put him in to fight for his life. We were about to kick him out for the third year in a row, and he came up and did this hip-hop piece that was to a symphony, and it was one of the most fantastic solos I had ever seen. The musicality, the emotion of seeing somebody fight for their life — you could feel the drive from 50 feet away. It was a moment I’ll never forget.”

ON THE PLATFORM: The New SYTYCD ‘Stage vs. Street’ Format
“The biggest challenge was the ballroom for most dancers on the show. In the contemporary dances, you can still hide a lot. When someone has to do a Quickstep, you just can’t hide the Quickstep. … I’ve been told there will be hardly any ballroom. When you see more kids struggle and learn something so different, I think it’s more interesting. There possibly will be more kids struggling this time if they have street dancers — if they truly are street dancers — we’ll see probably some trainwrecks.”

RIDERS: These 3 Beloved SYTYCD Performances

“'The Hummingbird and the Flower,’ with Jamie and Hok: I’ve always loved hip-hop, and I love all the styles, but that was the first time I looked at a hip-hop number and thought to myself, ‘What a piece of art!’ It was something that will have a history and a legacy of remembrance, something that visually left an imprint. I don’t think anybody that watched it on that occasion would ever forget it.”

“I’ve gone back and watched the 'Addiction’ piece with Kupono and Kayla many times over and find it’s such a flawless piece. Every nuance and phrase, how fulfilling that whole thing was from measure to measure. … It was magical.”

“One of my favorite numbers of all time that deeply touched me was Tyce Diorio’s breast cancer piece. At that week in my life — a lot of times, you don’t know what’s going on in a judge’s life, you don’t know what’s going on in the dancer’s life — I had a close friend that had a double mastectomy that week and whoa, it took everything in my power to talk about it at all. … His choreography says so much so brilliantly. It was one of the most clever pieces, and, yes, the subject matter does get to you, but it was the dancing that brings it to life. It was truly priceless.”

MISSED IT: Dance Moms and Pretty Much Any Other Dance Show
“I don’t watch Dance Moms. I haven’t really seen anything that’s moved me on any other shows, and even dance movies except for — even though it was hokey — Strictly Ballroom.”

RIDER: America’s Ballroom Challenge
"Before all the dance shows, this was really the only dance show out there for the longest time, and it introduced people to ballroom dancing. So I’m so happy it’s back and to a wider base audience now that has appreciation after all these years thanks to Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance.”

America’s Ballroom Challenge premieres Friday, April 24, at 9 p.m. on PBS.

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