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The Competition

America's Ballroom Challenge host Jean Louisa Kelly

Host Jean Louisa Kelly.

© Jeffrey Dunn

Jean Louisa Kelly

The host of America's Ballroom Challenge is Jean Louisa Kelly, an actress, singer, and dancer whose career has included many leading roles on television, in feature films, and on the stage.

Ms. Kelly is best known for playing Kim Warner on Yes, Dear, the popular situation comedy that ran on CBS from 2000 to 2006. But she began her performing career as a child actor in stage musicals throughout New England and New York.

Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, Ms. Kelly grew up in a small town in the central part of the state. Her father was a high school English teacher; her mother, a music teacher. As a child, Ms. Kelly took some kind of music or dance lessons — voice, ballet, tap, or jazz — almost every day of the week, and soon found her way into musical theater. She landed her first professional part at age 11: the title role in a production of "Annie" at Rhode Island's Theatre by the Sea. At 15, she was cast as Snow White in the original Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods." And at 16, she landed her first movie role, starring as John Candy's rebellious teenage niece Tia in John Hughes' Uncle Buck.

After the movie, Ms. Kelly took a break from acting, finished high school, and enrolled at Columbia University in New York. There she resumed her acting career, appearing in television movies like Breathing Lessons (with Joanne Woodward and James Garner) and One More Mountain (with Meredith Baxter); as well as in undergraduate productions of "Our Town" and "The Fantasticks."

After graduating from Columbia in 1994 with a degree in English literature, Ms. Kelly was hired for a series of television commercials in which she played an MCI operator always challenging AT&T; the job gave her the financial security to pursue an acting career. She got her next big break when she landed the part of Rowena Morgan, the star pupil and muse of the high school music teacher played by Richard Dreyfuss in Mr. Holland's Opus. Her rendition of George Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me" was especially memorable.

In Michael Ritchie's 1995 film version of the long-running off-Broadway musical "The Fantasticks," Ms. Kelly again played Luisa, a role that showcased her dancing ability as well as her singing. In the late '90s, she had a series of guest roles on network television shows, including Homicide: Life on the Street, Law & Order, and Ally McBeal. A recurring role as Nurse Diane on the NBC sitcom Mad About You led to her biggest role, starring alongside Anthony Clark, Mike O'Malley, and Liza Snyder in the long-running CBS hit Yes, Dear.

Since Yes, Dear, Ms. Kelly has guest-starred in television shows like Grey's Anatomy and The Ghost Whisperer; appeared in theatrical productions in Los Angeles and New York; and sung in benefit concerts to support research on AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, and breast cancer, as well as in a PBS tribute to children's television pioneer Fred Rogers. She and her husband, James Pitaro, live in Los Angeles with their son, Sean, and daughter, Josey.

America's Ballroom Challenge host Ron Montez

Host Ron Montez.

© Jeffrey Dunn

Ron Montez

Former Latin dance champion Ron Montez will be sharing his insider's perspective on the new season of America's Ballroom Challenge.

Mr. Montez was the long-time co-host of public television's Championship Ballroom Dancing, which featured top competitive ballroom dancers from all over the country. He shared the stage and his expertise with legendary hosts Juliet Prowse, Rita Moreno, and Sandy Duncan. He is thrilled to be returning to television in 2009, this time paired with host Jean Louisa Kelly. "I'm very excited to work with PBS and help to continue its tradition and commitment to presenting the finest competitive ballroom dancing on television," Mr. Montez says.

Ron Montez began dancing as a teenager at the suggestion of his sister, who was a dance instructor. He fell in love with the sport and soon began competing. Searching for ways to improve his craft, he entered Brigham Young University, where he studied and attended BYU's famous ballroom program. After leaving the program, he headed to the west coast, where he met his partner, Liz Curtis. They went on to capture many awards together. They won their first International Latin crown in 1979—and defended it successfully every year through 1985.

Mr. Montez says he feels lucky to have had a competitive career that allowed him to compete and perform all over the world. "It has been an enriching and rewarding experience," he says.

Since retiring from competition, Mr. Montez has remained an active and integral part of the ballroom community as a teacher, coach, choreographer, and adjudicator in both American and International styles. Among his many projects:

  • As an examiner, he evaluates both professional and amateur dancers for certification.
  • He organizes a dance workshop in San Diego, which exposes dancers of all levels to world class coaches.
  • And, with his wife, Karla, he runs an annual dance competition in Chicago.

The Montez family lives in Arizona.

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When to Watch

America's Ballroom Challenge fourth season premieres on:
February 25, 2009
Check your local listings

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