Mary Murphy says she’s finally getting over the respiratory irritation she was left with after a brush fire near her home in Carlsbad, California — a fire that took out eight houses in her neighborhood.
“My voice is a little bit hoarse still, but I ran up the stairs yesterday, so that’s a good sign,” says the energetic “So You Think You Can Dance” mainstay. She’s also firmed her resolve to be better prepared in case of another emergency. This one definitely did not find her ready.
“Oh my gosh, I’ve never experienced anything like that before in my life!” she exclaims. “I thought, ‘My house smells like fire,’ and I walked out and saw blue sky…Then I turned around and I could not believe what I saw — billowing black smoke coming right over the house. It wasn’t even on TV yet. We weren’t even being evacuated. It came so fast! It was 101 degrees that day, and I was just running around my house – I know it was ridiculous. The first thing I grabbed was at least 10 dresses that I had bought for the show, and I started getting my shoes, one pair of every color. Then I started searching for my mother’s rings that meant the world to me. My pictures were not in one location…And of course I couldn’t even get my car out of the garage. The electricity just went out. I went into full panic.”
Mary found her hillside street full of neighbors making their way down. Some of them helped her get her garage door open. Now, she says, she and her neighbors are making a point of communicating with one another, and of being better prepared. She’s keeping a tank of drinking water outside her house and getting other supplies.
She recalls going back to her house after the blaze was extinguished to see if it was okay and also to protect it in case of looters. But she admits, “I have no idea what that means. How could I have stopped anyone from stealing from me anyway?! I had one camping lantern and some candles!” She laughs. “I realized one camping lantern wasn’t enough. The smoke was so thick I couldn’t stay. Then the next day we were evacuated again. I never unpacked my car, just re-packed it a little better.”
Considering other events in the life of the unsinkable dancer/choreographer — her successful 2011 battle with thyroid cancer, her drive to get back into shape following that, her legal fight with a former manager — her close call with a wildfire wasn’t so bad.
“So You Think You Can Dance” continues to be an uplifting experience for her in Season 11. “I don’t care what’s happening in your life, you see those kids dance and it’s all-engulfing. You just breathe it in, and you watch them soar and you know how very, very difficult it really is – what we’re asking of them. I’m just so in awe every season. And it does seem to be better and better, and the bar gets raised,” she notes.
She finds that many of the young hopefuls are coming in well-prepared in recent seasons. “A lot of them are ready, but there are still a lot of kids like Cyrus (“Glitch” Spencer) a couple of seasons ago. They’d love to come ready, but they don’t have the financial means. So it’s really cool to see those kids excel, too.”
As for this year’s crop, Mary says there are more contenders out of the ballroom world — her background — than there have been in five or six years. But as far as who will be named to the top 20, this time, “Even we don’t know,” she says. “Because of the way they’re doing it this year, they were able to keep that a secret from us.”