A "Dance" Judge in La La Land
By Maria Elena Fernandez, Times Staff Writer
Mary Murphy with Nigel Lythgoe
A SEAT on the "Hot Tamale Train" is no longer the benchmark of success on "So You Think You Can Dance." There now is a more coveted ranking, a sweeter place known as the "Tra La La," and, yes, only judge Mary Murphy can explain what that means.
She coined it this month, inspired by a Broadway routine performed flawlessly by hip-hop dancer Joshua Allen and his contemporary partner Katee Shean during Fox's multi-discipline dance competition for aspiring performers. After the performance, Murphy screamed in her usual jubilant, uninhibited, 'practically deranged manner. "The two of you ought to come with a warranty - satisfaction guaranteed! Wooooo! before exalting that Allen was "going right in here into the Tra La La phase of my heart."
Come again? The dancer sensed it was a compliment, as did the studio audience. But that's as far as anyone was able to get with the accolade until a postshow visit to Murphy's dressing room filled in the blanks.
"We have different layers of our heart," Murphy explained, still visibly moved by the number. "There's the initial acquaintance when you meet someone and you feel good being around this person. Then there's the next level for closer friends. The `Tra La La' is usually a place where you only let family, friends and pets that you've loved and lost. You don't let just anyone in your life into that. It's just the way it is. And Joshua is into mine."
With that, Murphy released her famously raucous laugh. Then she continued. "There's something about his essence and spirit that just radiates from him. It's shining in his eyes. The joy of just being here."
So, to be clear, when dancers enter the Tra La La zone, they have achieved something greater than landing a spot on the Hot Tamale Train, the gold standard - Murphy established last season when a fiery jive performance prompted her to issue first-class tickets on the "hot tamale train" for the couple, confusing everyone around her, including executive producer and judge Nigel Lythgoe.
"If I put somebody, on the train, it means they were really hot that night and could be heading into the finale," Murphy said. "I should have put Joshua on the train, but I just couldn't get it out. It just got to me. When I start getting emotional over something, it's hard for me to put them on the train because they're taking me to a different place. It's not all fun. It's Tra La La. It's going into my heart and it's affecting my cells."