Carmel couple reach pinnacle with world ballroom dancing championship

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It has been quite an eventful year for Jonas Kazlauskas and Kathleen Ilo.

They were engaged Feb. 20 and celebrated the birth of their son, Renzo Vincent Kazlauskas.

Five months later, they were back in high-powered ballroom dancing competitions. The Carmel couple captured the 2021 World Professional 10-Dance Championship Sept. 18 in Ukraine. It was their first world title. Their previous best finish in the World Championships was third. The 10-Dance is a combination of the five standard ballroom dances (waltz, tango, Viennese waltz, foxtrot, quickstep) and five Latin dances (cha cha, samba, rumba, pasodoble and jive).

“There are people that specialize in just five,” Kazlauskas said. “Then there are people like us who like both and cannot choose, and we can do both quite well. It’s probably the hardest category.”

Ilo credits the couple’s drive to prove they could balance home life and competing for their success.

“We want to prove that it’s possible to do both,” Ilo said. “You can have a family and still chase your dreams.”

Both agreed it was a major sacrifice not having as much time with their baby, especially because the COVID-19 pandemic made for a crowded schedule.

The week prior to the World Championships, the couple also won the United States 10-Dance Championships for the fourth consecutive time on Sept. 11 in Orlando.

“We were home for three days, trained and then left again,” Ilo said. “Actually, I had a left knee issue, and the last two days we could train before we left for World, I was watching him practice.”

Ilo said adrenaline helped pull her through the competition.

After the Worlds, the couple won the United Kingdom 10-Dance Championships Sept. 25 in England.

“Those competitions usually happen sometime (within) in a year,” Kazlauskas said. “This time, it happened all in the same month because of COVID.”

Kazlauskas, 30, and Ilo, 33, teach at Starlite Ballroom, which is owned by Ilo’s parents, Rauno and Kristiina Ilo, on the northwest side of Indianapolis.

“The fact that Kathleen pushed so hard to get back to where we were was amazing,” Kazaluskas said.

Ilo was active through her pregnancy.

“I taught my last lesson the night before giving birth,” she said. “My first lesson I taught was two weeks after he was born. We really started to come back training about a month after he was born.”

Kazlauskas’ mother stayed with the couple to help with the baby when their training picked up.

“It gave us a lot more freedom to work and train for these competitions,” Ilo said.

Ilo said it was hard to get her stamina back after giving birth.

“It was a lot of Jonas pushing and supporting,” she said. “Usually, I’m the driving force to let’s go practice.”

That changed after the birth of their son.

“She was saying, ‘Can’t we stay home and hug him for a bit?’’” Kazlauskas said. “We wanted to defend our national title.”

Ilo was born in Estonia but moved to Carmel at a young age and graduated from Cathedral High School. The couple met when Ilo advertised for a dance partner.

“He came here for a tryout, and it obviously worked out,” Ilo said. “That was in August 2014.”

The couple has returned to teaching and getting ready for a 2022 wedding.

Although not much prize money is awarded at competitions, Ilo said the prestige does help attract students, who are mostly adults. But Kazlauskas would like to see ballroom dancing become bigger for boys like it is in Europe.

“Once we do retire (from competition) and I have more time, I will spend energy toward that,” he said.


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