Jit is Detroit: How the Detroit Pistons are highlighting dance form to enhance fan experience

DJ Juan Atkins’ Technicolor and other Detroit techno beats from the 80s filled the Brinker Loft at the Henry Ford-Detroit Pistons Performance Center on a Saturday morning in early November.

As the music blared, eight dancers tapped their feet and harmoniously moved their limbs as Gabby McLeod, also known as Queen Gabby or the Queen of Jit cued instructions.

“Detroiters have a certain swagger about them, from their clothes to their personality, all those characteristics go into what jit is,” McLeod said.

“Jit is Detroit because it was made by Detroiters.”

The Detroit Pistons have showcased the dance form over the years and will again this season, starting Monday night when the Denver Nuggets visit Little Caesars Arena. The scheduled performance will be the first of several during the 2023-24 season.

Originating from the city of Detroit, jit is comparable to typical hip-hop dance, but takes originality in its high-energy footwork, floorwork, kicks, shuffles and dynamic movements.

“Having the jit team involved with the Pistons is exciting,” Pistons Dance Team director Natalie Miramontes said. “If you go to Chicago, the Bay Area or look at other teams, everyone has their specialty, but Jit is very authentic to the city and the dance culture of Detroit.”

The history of Jit

The Motor City has long been a hub for dance, culture and music, and jit hit the scene in the 70s. Pioneered by the McGhee brothers (Tracey, Johnny and James), the dance form became popular during that time. The brothers formed a dance group on the city’s west side called the Jitterbugs. “I made a documentary on the Jitterbugs called the Pioneers of Jit,” dancer Haleem Rasul said. “We found that jit started before techno music came out, so the Jitterbugs started dancing to funk music. You can still see a lot of their early movements in the dance today.” At the peak of their careers, the Jitterbugs began performing at various auto shows throughout the country during the 80s. While the trio laid the foundation for the dance, other groups emerged to separate eastside style from the west.

“Eastside jit style is strong in its form and foundation while westside has more dynamics and originality,” Rasul said. A westside group called the Funkateers became known for their lively footwork. They began incorporating popping and locking motions to the jit framework. Local television shows like The Scene and The New Dance Show began broadcasting the dance style.

“I used to religiously go home and watch The New Dance Show just for the dance line and see jitters come down,” Rasul said.

Not taught commonly in dance classes, each member of the jit team has grown to love the dance form.

“I’ve been dancing since I’ve been able to walk,” dancer Michael Manson said. “I started jitting in seventh grade, and I was one of them young guys that was around the older generation that got a chance to learn from them.”

While the two still dance and collaborate together, McLeod was one of Manson’s first jit students and they teach new jitters as well.

“I’m glad we’re back with the Pistons,” McLeod said. “Jit is charismatic, it’s explosive and I really want to give the next generation of jitters a chance to be on the NBA floor and see what they love.”