Nick Kovach said:
Jit’ On ...Detroit’s Legacy Dance Represents!
All Rights Reserved Hardcore Detroit Copyright 2005
Used with Permission
By Dina Dunham
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 a.ssault 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 k!llers' 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', 's3x 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.