Haleem “Stringz” Rasul talks about the constantly evolving form of street dancing in Detroit—from the jit to b-boy swag.
This fall at the Shanghai Biennale, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit will curate the Detroit Pavilion. The pavilion will feature live performances by dancer Haleem “Stringz” Rasul and the Hinterlands, an experimental theater company. Two members of the Hinterlands, Richard Newman and Liza Bielby, recently sat down with Stringz to learn more about “jit,” a style of dance specific to Detroit that he will be performing in China.
Richard Newman So Haleem, tell me what is jit?
Haleem Rasul Well, “jit” is a very popular dance style from Detroit that has roots in the ’70s from a group called the Jitterbugs. The dance progressed over the years adding other elements like tap and various contemporary styles. It is a heavily footwork-oriented dance . . . a combination of a bunch of different kind of dances, actually. Yeah—so that’s the jit. The Jitterbugs were the pioneering group. The dance form today is usually done to a more techno-electro sound—very up-tempo dance. You can do it to any tempo, to any music, but it’s known to be done to techno music.
RN Once techno happened in Detroit, did the dance change or adapt?
HR Yeah, there were a couple different turning points in the evolution of the dance. In the ’70s, the Jitterbugs was dancing, doing the dance-form, to funk, more of a George Clinton-type of sound. And then, as it got into the ’80s, it changed; for some reason in Detroit dance was always faster tempo, and we gravitated to footwork. So, I would say that music definitely played an important role as far as how the dance changed over the years, the subtle changes or the additions.
RN Would you call yourself a Jitter?
HR Yes, I would call myself a Jitter.
Liza Bielby of The Hinterlands Would other people call you a Jitter?
HR Yeah, definitely.