Jit’ On ...Detroit’s Legacy Dance Represents!
By Deanna Dunham

All Rights Reserved Hardcore Detroit® Copyright 2005



2011 Update:
  Written in 2005, this article was the first of its kind
to create a narrative about Detroit’s dance, the Jit.  Since that
time, we have learned much more about the dance than was previously
known.  Specifically, a more accurate picture of its origins has
emerged and we will be forthcoming with a revision to this great
dance’s history in spring 2011.  Although this article contains some
inaccuracies, it remains a powerful description about the essence of
dance culture in the City of Detroit.  We hope it provides some
insight into the Jit’s importance for those who are beginning to learn about it.

Late on a hot summer’s night, after Detroit’s clubs have shut down at 2 a.m., people are continuing to have a good time into the wee-hours of the night in Detroit neighborhoods, corraling backyards, front lawns, basements and driveways, blasting out bassnotic old and new school jams from their cars, house radios, or high definition sound systems.  

All of a sudden, somewhere in the city, “Let Me See Your Footwork,” by DJ Assault and Mr. De is dropped and you see a couple of young cats breaking out on the front lawn into a fancy footwork routine, sliding to the left, to the right, twisting and kicking their feet fast, back and forth, grabbing their baggy pants as they prepare to drop to the floor, spin and pop back up in one swift movement on tempo to the beat, all the while their arms are effortlessly in sync with their feet. Onlookers begin to encircle the dancers, whistling, hollering, and laughing, feeling right at home because they know their city, Detroit, bears exclusive rights’ to the origin of ‘jitting’, a dance over 75 years old.  

Far on the east side, bordering Gratiot, in deeply segregated and economically stricken neighborhoods, blacks coexisted in the early 1900s’ through the early 60s’ in a close-knit community called 'Black Bottom', named after its rich soil. Black-owned area businesses flourished the streets with barber shops, restaurants, movie theaters, and clubs like the Royal Blue Bar, 606 Horse Shoe and the Congo Lounge.  

At the end of a hard laborious day, a community came together to listen and dance to music of great legends that graced the city’s esteemed night clubs. Particularly, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker, as well as Jelly Roll Morton who wrote, “Black Bottom Stomp,” a direct reference to the city’s neighborhoods.  

With spellbinding rhythms reverberating against the walls and back into the ears of the ‘Black Bottom’ community, sparking an indescribable energy in peoples’ souls, taking over their minds and spirits as they danced out their troubles, sadness and hearts on the dance floor, the intensity of Detroit’s woes authenticated itself into it’s own native dance, ‘Black Bottom,’ now known as ‘jitting.’     

As a result of jazz music making its profound declaration in clubs throughout the 1920s’, a dance called the ‘Jitterbug’ penetrated black communities nationwide. The ‘Jitterbug’ dance, with its basic form, had many distinct styles and names, depending on it's place of origin-- the ‘Charleston,’ of South Carolina, ‘The Lindy Hop,’ of New York, ‘The Shag,’ of New Orleans, and 'Black Bottom,’ of Detroit. 

A soloist’s challenge dance, Detroit’s own ‘Jitterbug’ was fast in speed and characterized by slapping your backside, hopping forward and backward, feet stomping, infrequent heel-to-toe footwork, pelvic gyrations, and arm waving, all done while dancing one beat behind the beat of the jazz percussion. 

As jazz music took on a more exclusive, mature appreciation by the 1950s’, Rhythm & Blues was kicking out a new sound, and Detroit’s ‘Black Bottom’ adopted a newer version of the ‘Jitterbug’ called ‘The Swing’ or ‘The Jive’, similar in basic form, which was set apart with more repetitive movements.

Changing over with the tides of the music, the ‘Swing’ or ‘Jive’ was soon put on the back-burner during the 1960s’ Rock n’ Roll ‘Twist’ craze and Motown's infamous sounds of The Temptations and The Supremes. However, during the early 1970s’, ‘The Swing', or ‘Jive’ went underground and a new type of ‘Jitterbug’ was brewing on the east side of Detroit--- the ‘Jit’.  

Notably, as other dances were augmenting during the same time, ‘Pop-Locking’ in California, and ‘Breaking’ in New York, Detroit’s ‘Jitting’, was set into motion with the help of black American funk music such as 'One Nation Under a Groove', 'Flashlight', and 'Knee Deep,' by Detroit’s own George Clinton and The Parliament Funkdaelics, according to Dennis, 37, whose still a fierce pop-lock dancer out of the same era. The new ‘Jit’ would eventually incorporate universal basic footwork such as standing on one foot, with the other leg raised at the shin or knee and twisting the foot back and forth--a game of balance, accompanied by subtle arm movements.  

This era of ‘jitting’ was the direct result of the 1967 riots and the widespread dumping of heroin into the black community, so that by the early 70s’, a large portion of young children whose parents were on drugs had to fend for themselves began to cultivate their own pseudo-families-- gangs. And while playing the game of survival, they soon discovered the elaborate benefits of drug trafficking which supported lifestyles of large knots of cash, cars, clothes and parties, attracting many young folk of all ages, whom, initially did not see, that in order to support this lavish lifestyle, consequentially, these gangs had to fiercely guard their territory from rival gangs by committing crimes including murder, and were sometimes incarcerated or ended up dead. And sending out their declarations of territory and decrees of murder via ‘jitting’ at house parties, clubs or on the streets, where even innocent people were sometimes injured or in some cases murdered, was just one of many ways of relaying their messages according to a griot authority of direct history, King Sundiata Keita.  

The first innovators of this new type of ‘jitting' were the 'Errol Flynns’, east side of Detroit’s most notorious gang, who gathered at full capacity with common-folk in basement parties and clubs, skylarking their signature hand signs called the ‘Errol Flynn’. The ‘Errol Flynn’ was simply characterized by twisting the wrists with open-handed, tightly clasped fingers, both arms staircase-bouncing up and down in the air in tempo to popular songs they proclaimed as their anthem. 

This newly coined signature hand gesture catapulted 'jitting' forward in a different direction---soon, ‘Jitting’ would take precedent to the city’s gangs in a style known as 'Stacking,’ as gangs like the 'Black Killers' and 'Coney Oneys' would throw rival gang signs in the air and “shoot them down” with their own gang signs, representing murder, in definitive arm and hand gestures while incorporating the universal basic footwork during their anthem songs.

Patterned after gang ‘jitting’, this dance gained widespread popularity among regular patrons. It was however, stylistically pioneered and benchmarked by the late 80s' by Detroit’s renowned jitters like 'Cosmo', 'Freaky Will', 'Devonaire', Alfonzo, Greg, Cedric, Micheal, Emmanual 'Cassanova', 'Joke Man' and Terrance Majors who came up with new and creative ways to express their footwork. Still a soloist dance, sometimes using similiar movements from 'Black Bottom'--- movements included different varations of feet-stomping and arm waving, as they gigged in homes, community centers, and clubs across the city, taking on a more positive vibe, appropriately upholding and passing on a Detroit legacy.  

Soon afterwards,well into the mid-90s’,other individual city-wide jitters decided to forge together as male dance groups, like the 'Funkateers' who designed their own version of the ‘Jit’ called 'Funkateering,’ choreographing ‘Jitting’ and ‘Pop-Locking,’ together. Other well-known jitting groups included 'Tracy McGhee and The Jitterbugs', '4-Play' and the 'Marquis Dancers,' 'Double Impact', 'Sex Mob', 'Strickly Ghetto', 'TKO', 'Perfect Love Affair', 'Def Squade' and to be asked to be a member of one of these elite dance groups was an honor, according to Myron, a.k.a, “Dr. Disco”, 42, a member of the Hollywood Swingers in the mid-80s’. These Detroit dance groups paralyzed audiences large and small, blending the latest moves into the sweetest routines, and staging fierce competitions in club venues throughout the city.  

Their collegiate dance routines required unified movements, like holding the right foot with the left hand and jumping over it without letting go, a duplicated move by the previous ‘Jitterbug’ of the 1920s’ and 30s’.    

Other duplicated movements included ‘jumping over one another’s heads,’ ‘splits,’ and ‘back- hand flips’; shear acrobatics compounded with fancy footwork.  

However, cadenced with the music, this version of the “jit” was slower, which held an even more competitive edge in challenging the rivals’ seemingly ability of timing their movements to the instrumental sounds of the horns, piano or the synthesized sound effects, rather than to the drum beat. 

To even a greater extent, separated by Woodward Avenue, the style of the 'Jit' was also divided into “East Side,” versus “West Side.” The “East Side” of Detroit commanded more combinations, and a wider range of simple and complex movements. The “West Side,” added their own appeal of exaggerated facial expressions, balled fists, executing each movement with full force and power; opposed to the “East Side’s” lackadaisical and infallible glide into each segmented dance movement, eventually with both sides meeting up late at night,at the 'Grand Quarters', 'Outcast', 'Millennium' and 'The Dancery', showcasing their best moves and learning from each other.  

Detroit’s ‘Jit’ was set ablaze and was to remain on fire. 

Likewise, avid jitters like 'Pretty Boy', 'Freakish Behavior' and 'Disco Kid' exposed jitting to erotic male dancing, warming the female entertainment industry in the 1990s’ as it took exotic root in Detroit’s infamous entertainment clubs such as Henry’s Place, Watts, Mozambique, and UBQ’s. Distinguished moves of theirs included slow gyrations of the pelvic muscle like the 'hip-roll', and the 'tick-hip,' each movement of the hip, sexually magnified in circular or back and forth motions in tempo to the instrumental rhythms. 

As well, the music analogous to the 'Jit,' could be heard on Detroit’s FM airwaves beginning in 1977 through the 80s’ on 107.5 WGPR-Radio by the The Electrifying Mojo.” His play list included the Parliament Funkdaelics, Bootsy Collins, James Brown, Prince, and Kraftwerk.  

Kraftwerk's,'Tour De France', MetroPlex’s ‘No UFO’s, and 'Alleys of Your Mind', by Cybotron, were just some examples of song that reinforced the 'Jit's' much needed tempo. 

The 'Jit,' taking its contagious wave through the city, could also be regularly seen danced out on Detroit's,'The Scene,' the first black dance show ever, broadcasted on WGPR-TV, the first black-owned syndicated television station; and later, 'The New Dance Show' hosted by RJ Watkins, on WWJ-TV, a sign-on to WGPR-TV. 

However, approaching the end of the 80s’, suddenly, ‘jitting,’ becoming a socially unacceptable dance and labeled for the ‘old skoolers’, was forced underground temporarily as other types of music emerged and changed face in the basements of Detroit; House music, with sultry, melodic rhythmic beats, and Techno, now with more electronic, synthesized beats, making it near impossible to ‘jit’. 

As Detroit’s House and Techno gained fame on an international level for artists like Detroit’s Kevin Saunderson and Juan Atkins accredited to pivotal public relation loyalists, like founder of Yin-Sight Management’s, Laura Gavoor, the 1990s’ began barking out another new Detroit music genre--'Booty Music,'or as some call it, 'Ghetto Tech', with the ‘Jit’ making headway again, re-designed as the ‘New Skool Jit,’ with faster, fancier footwork positioned to it’s 808 loops. 

Such artists like DJ Assault & Mr. De, Hydraulic, and DJ Marquis popularized this genre of music kicking out songs like, 'Let Me See Your Footwork, 'Jit', and 'Get Yo'Jit On', respectively.  

The ‘Jit’, now taking on specific, self-explanatory names, like the 'Run-Up', 'Running-Back', 'Crossover', crossing one leg behind or in front of the other, 'Drops,' dropping to the floor, and the 'Wiggleback,' taking one leg, kicking it forward, wiggling it on the side, and kicking it back, best described by Clifton “Devonaire” Walton, 32, self-proclaimed jit's 'Master of Work', as “150 chambers of footwork,” 'form' being the most important aspect of the dance, because “That's how you present the dance.” 

As time has progressed and the music has changed, Detroit’s own ‘Jit’ has once again, quieted down.

Juxtaposed to well-known dances like the Crip Walk, the Harlem Shakers, and the Clown Dance, Detroit’s current dance music doesn’t have the ingredients for jitting in their recipe.  

“It’s hard to ‘jit’ to hip-hop which has a slow tempo and popularize it because ‘jitting’ music is not marketed on the airwave,” states Hardcore Detroit’s own Haleem Rasul, whom dreams soon, of pioneering a 'New Detroit Jit,’ hoping to make a live comeback despite the difficulty performing it to today’s hip-hop beats.  

However, there are possibilities, as Missy Elliott uses the exact same loops from Detroit’s Cybotron’s (Juan Atkins), 'Clear', in her latest track, 'Lose Control.' 

On a local scale, ‘Hardcore Detroit Jitters’,of the ‘Hardcore Detroit Breakin’ Crew’, show ‘jitting’ much love when the group is often incorporated as a surprise set into ‘breaking’ performances, identified as the show’s “twist of entertainment.” 

Spanning almost over an entire century, neither the ‘Jit’, nor Detroit’s accredited fame to the dance can or will ever be denied. 

Moves Crews Grooves 

Please visit www.hardcore313.com for upcoming dance events. 

Dina Dunham is a freelance writer. She can be contacted at deannadunham@yahoo.com