World Champions Kathleen Ilo and Jonas Kazlauskas Are Demystifying Ballroom Dancing

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January/February 2024

How many times have you been inspired by a classic movie ballroom dance scene and thought, “I wish I could do that”? Carmel residents, 2021 World Professional 10-Dance Champions, and 5x United States Professional 10-Dance Champions [2017-2022] Jonas Kazlauskas and Kathleen Ilo are demystifying ballroom dancing and are making this intricate art form cool again!

Kathleen Ilo and Jonas Kazlauskas

A Timeless and Purposeful Art Form

Ballroom dancing is not just a rhythmic interplay of steps and movements; it is also a profound connection between dance partners. Beyond the graceful twirls and precise footwork lies a silent dialogue where communication transcends words. The dance floor becomes a canvas for mutual understanding, requiring synchronization, responsiveness and trust. As partners move in harmony, they develop a unique nonverbal language, enhancing their ability to connect on a deeper level.

Moreover, the physical aspects of ballroom dancing contribute significantly to overall well-being. The deliberate movements improve balance, flexibility and cardiovascular health, making it a delightful and effective form of exercise. Confidence naturally blossoms as dancers master the artistry of their movements, creating a positive feedback loop that extends beyond the dance floor into everyday life. Thus, the art of ballroom dancing becomes a holistic experience, enriching both the body and the communication skills that form the foundation of any successful partnership.

Kathleen Ilo and Jonas Kazlauskas

Partners On and Off the Dance Floor

Jonas Kazlauskas and Kathleen Ilo shared their remarkable journey in the world of ballroom dancing that extends beyond national acclaim to international success. They are also the proud parents of two children and competitive ballroom dancing instructors. This year, the duo is excited to share they are instructing beginner classes held every Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Meeting House in the center of the Village of WestClay.

Kathleen Ilo and Jonas Kazlauskas

Jonas, hailing from Lithuania, began his dance career at the age of seven and moved to England at 14 to further pursue ballroom dancing and Latin. Between the ages of 18 and 21, he and his partner held the number-one spot in England, representing the country in major competitions worldwide. At 22, Jonas relocated to the United States, eventually connecting with Kathleen in Boston. After a successful tryout, he moved to Indiana to join forces with Kathleen, bringing with him a wealth of experience and a degree in performing arts from Bournemouth University.

Kathleen, originally from Estonia, has a rich dancing heritage from her parents and grandparents. Her family migrated to America when she was three, eventually settling in Carmel, Indiana. Kathleen, a biology graduate from Indiana University, has seamlessly blended her passion for dance with her academic achievements.

As a dynamic 10-dance couple, Jonas and Kathleen specialize in both ballroom (waltz, tango, Viennese waltz, foxtrot, quickstep) and Latin dances (cha cha, samba, rumba, paso doble, jive). The two have competed together in over 25 countries and achieved their long-term goals of becoming world champions and 5-time U.S. champions after years of intense work, commitment, sacrifice, childbirth, fatigue, and a global pandemic. They have not only competed and trained globally but also dedicated themselves to pushing boundaries and inspiring their students to achieve greater heights.

The Power of the Human Connection

Jonas and Kathleen bring a sense of ease and fun into their classes. Each month, they teach a different style of ballroom dancing, and it is their goal to engage more people in the area and introduce them to the physical, mental and social benefits of ballroom dancing.

“We are demystifying ballroom dancing,” Kathleen said. “Ballroom and couple dancing has always been a ‘thing’ throughout history. It’s only now that, somehow, we’ve lost the art and enjoyment of dancing with another human, whether it’s a spouse, friend or whomever. We’re hoping to take the intimidation out of [ballroom] dancing and introduce it to more people so that they can incorporate the benefits of it into their lives.”

The couple shared that they hope to have the opportunity to bring this art form into local schools’ gym classes to teach young children and make it socially acceptable again.

“[Ballroom] dancing teaches so many things about manners, posture and confidence,” Kathleen emphasized. “It connects the brain to the body, and it’s really good for mental cognitive ability. In the age of social media and the Internet, we have lost the ability to connect with another person face to face. How many times have you gone to a restaurant and looked at the number of people [who] are on their phones…just nonstop? People are not talking to each other anymore, and they are just connecting on socials. While that’s great to keep up with long-distance relationships, we are not communicating with one another anymore. We’re not looking at each other in the eyes, holding hands and doing those kinds of things. You can’t have your phone on you while you dance—it doesn’t work. You need both hands.”

Jonas added, “We have this space for the whole year, and we wanted a way to meet the neighbors and introduce this class for the social and health benefits of learning. You can walk up and pay on the spot [before class on Thursdays], or we are working on our website, JonasandKathleen.com, and there will be an option to prepay for one class or the whole month. For me, this is about personal growth. When I wake up in the morning, I want to be better. So, if I can do something that will make a change for myself, Kathleen, my children and in my community, then that will create a chain reaction. Through dance, I can grow for sure, and be healthier and more patient. If you want your children to be happy, then you have to be happy. So, if you’re searching for growth for yourself, I think through dancing, there’s such a fun way to do it.”

World Professional 10-Dance Champions 2021

5x Undefeated United States Professional 10-Dance Champions 2017-2022

5x Undefeated United Kingdom Professional 10-Dance Champions 2017-2022

World Professional Classic Showdance Bronze Medalist 2017

Blackpool China Rising Star Latin Champions 2018