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Our History

Founded as Rock the Blues in 2017, Colette Zilka and Felicia Bode joined forces to begin a grassroots blues dance community. They met in the swing dance community in the early 2000s, and later became active in the blues dance communities of neighboring cities. They realized there was no such community in Cleveland and sought to spread the joy and connection blues dancing brought them. 


The two started hosting classes and social dances in the yoga studio of Climb Cleveland, a rock climbing gym on Professor Avenue in the historic Tremont neighborhood. They also worked tirelessly as volunteer instructors at Oberlin College’s Ex-Co program, teaching blues dance to college students there and honing their curriculum for the greater community. They also attended every blues dance workshop weekend event they could in the United States and Europe to learn pedagogy from the best blues dance instructors in the world. 


Through Colette and Felicia’s work, Rock the Blues became a part of the national movement of blues dancers. The movement aimed to thoroughly research historical blues dancing in order to inform current practices and engage the public in the dances that originated with all styles of blues music, from Delta blues to Chicago blues to Swamp blues to Piedmont blues, etc.


After the COVID pandemic, Rock the Blues regrouped and reformed as Burning River Blues, changing their name in 2023 to better localize who they are and what they do. They obtained nonprofit status in 2024, but have been developing the Greater Cleveland area blues dance community for 7+ years.


Organizers and members of the Burning River Blues community recognize that dancing has always been a natural and integral part of blues music, and Cleveland is a city deeply rooted in blues music.  Burning River Blues partners with the local blues musicians who are a part of that deep history, reaching back to legendary blues musicians such as Sonny Boy Williamson, II and Robert Lockwood, Jr. and the musicians that they learned from in the Mississippi Delta, where blues music (and dance!) originated. They seek to continue educating the community about the history and culture represented in these artforms, and in that way honor the historic roots of blues.

Our Organizers

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