Marilyn Fordney Interviews Mary Murphy

Mary Murphy and Marilyn Fordney at HWDC, Photo by Alex Havasi

When Marilyn Fordney, the director of Fordney Foundation attended the Hollywood Dancesport Championships (HWDC) held at the Universal Hilton Hotel in October, she was fortunate to be able to speak to Mary Murphy, who was one of the organizers of the event. That conversation developed into an interview that we are pleased to share with you now.

This interview with Mary Murphy by Marilyn Fordney took place at the Hollywood Dancesport Championships (HWDC) held at the Universal Hilton Hotel, Universal City, California from October 26th to 30th, 2016. Organizers of this event were Mary Murphy, Michael Chapman, and Jonathan Roberts.

Marilyn Fordney: Where are you originally from?

Mary Murphy: I graduated from Northwest High School in Canal Fulton, Ohio. I became interested in dance and subsequently moved to San Diego, California after my education.

MF: How, when and what lead you to become a dance competition organizer?

MM: I began the Champion Ballroom Academy in San Diego in 1990. I started 2 to 3 one-day mini-comps and did this for years. In 1996 after retiring, I started judging extensively national dance competitions. In 1999, I bought into 3 competitions–Holiday Dance Classic, Northwest Star BalI (I moved to Los Angeles and called it Pacific Dancesport Championships), and the Southwest Regional that later had a name change to “San Diego Dancesport.” After the first year of Pacific Dancesport Championsips, I sold it but then 8 years ago, bought it back with the right partner–Michael Chapman. We changed the name to Hollywood Dancesport Championships.


Four years ago we added Jonathan Roberts to our team.

MF: What are the chief responsibilities of the organizer when planning and executing a dance competition?

MM: We plan a full year. This means that right after the end of today’s comp event, we will schedule a business meeting to go over problem solving, create the future show, acquire those we want to be in the show, plan strategic marketing, and ideas for graphics and approval of the designs. We must decide who will make up the 30 to 35 judges to get the right team in place. There is great financial risk because we must guarantee food, beverage, and hotel accommodations and we do not know how many entries will be obtained. My partner, Michael Chapman, organizes the Millennium Dancesport Championships in Orlando, Florida, that is one of the largest so he has a lot of good experience.

MF: Are there any specific credentials necessary to do this kind of work?

MM: First become a professional dancer and then learn every aspect of running a dance business. Also it is good to have knowledge and experience as a dance judge. A good understanding of running a business is vital to running a successful competitive event and having a business degree certainly would not hurt.

MF: Being a dance competition organizer is obviously a very huge and necessary job. Can you tell us what the worst thing that ever happened to you is and how you handled the situation?

MM: I had the experience of an individual who was not hired by me and who did not have much experience in running a Comp Manager computer software program, it turned out to be a disaster. Hundreds of entries were missing, and before each day’s program was to take place, the information had to be input. This took many hours to accomplish. I felt helpless, as I am not a computer person. I also had to take the brunt of anger from registrants. I learned that this Comp Manager is the heartbeat of an event and the key that keeps entries organized. So from that day, only the best comp manager programmer is used.


MF: What would you say to a young person who is interested in becoming a dance competition organizer?

MM: Don’t rush. First, develop as a dancer. Work at a comp, at the front desk, as a runner, or taking tickets. Become a judge and/or dance coach. Start small and arrange a day event or a half-day event. In other words, work your way up.

MF: Do you work throughout the entire year or do you take time off?

MM: I guess I’m a workaholic. In fact, Michael Chapman, who is one of the organizers of HWDC, and I, are creating tours and the first one will be to Italy and Venice where we will attend a comp that is located in a castle. We call these “Hot Tamale” tours. Other places we will visit are to Florence, Moscow (with a 1-day comp in St. Petersburg), perhaps a tour to Paris where a comp will occur in a castle and then a train tour starting from Vancouver.

MF: What message do you have for our up and coming dancers who compete in dance competitions?


MM: Have a passion for dance and follow your heart. Life is not an easy journey but the rewards of dance are awesome and profound.

MF: Is there anything you would like to see improve in the way the current system runs dance competitions, if at all? What about the comps that allow a single to dance and be judged because he or she does not have a partner?

MM: I am open to that. By dancing by yourself, you develop both as a leader and a follower. In addition, you become a stronger dancer because you are not dependent on a partner but must do it all on your own. You gain strength and skill and make for a strong dance teacher, if one should decide to go that route.

MF: Anything else you would like to share with our dance friends and readers?

MM: I spent 11 seasons as a judge and choreographer on the Fox television competition-reality show “So You Think You Can Dance.” It was shown in almost every country. It made me more aware of how one can be emotionally affected by 1 minute 30 seconds of dance. Sometimes a dance would bring me as well as other judges to tears and we would go off camera and take a short break to regain composure before continuing to film the show. Become the best dancer you can because YOU KNOW THE BENEFITS. You connect with another person and you connect with music. We are innately born with a rhythm.

MF: Thank you very much Mary, for sharing your thoughts with us today. You have come a long way in dance and have helped increase the public’s attention to this valuable art and sport form. Dancers look forward to competing at your events. I can see it has grown tremendously from a weekend event to now encompassing 5 days with over 1,174 heats. Wow!!!

Note: Mary partners with a local San Diego school district and offers dance as part of their educational curriculum under the “Chance to Dance” program. She trains teachers in the district who then teach the children ballroom dances in their classrooms. Mary’s website is

I hope you enjoyed this interesting interview with Mary Murphy. We appreciate that Marilyn Fordney was able to take the time to interview Mary Murphy and we thank her for being able to share this blog with our readers today!

Thought Of The Week:

Find that place within you that nothing is impossible. Then live only from that place – The Attraction Signal



Shane Meuwissen is the Media Specialist for Fordney Foundation.  He is a former dance instructor who know works with his company Slow Motion Dance Videos capture the beauty of dancing. If you would like to learn more about Shane and his video work, visit his website