Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The jit: Exploring the lineage of African-American dance through an examination of a uniquely American style of movement
by Mathis Reed, Joslynn, M.F.A., Mills College, 2014, 46; 1557488
Abstract (Summary)

This paper will examine the historical and cultural significance of the development of the African-American dance form known as "jitting". I will explore the dance lineage of jitting and ask these questions: how does the development of jitting inform our understanding of historical and current forms of African-American dance and culture? What place does jitting occupy within the lineage of well-known American and African-American movement? What role do oral traditions play in the lineage of African-American dance? To answer these questions I have studied the literature of twentieth century African-American artistic traditions in Detroit, the history of American concert dance, African dance history, and cultural anthropology texts covering aspects of artistic development and differences between Western and African artistic traditions as they relate to jitting as a dance form. I conducted interviews with people who are active in this art form, and I gained information from the pioneers of jitting; Johnny McGhee, James McGhee and Tracy McGhee. I also interviewed Hakeem Rasul, Cornelius Harris, and Tokkyo Faison. Rasul is also a jitter and the director of a jitterbug documentary, and he is the owner of the dance company Hardcore Detroit, one of the ambassadors of a style known as New Detroit jit. Harris is the label manager for Underground Resistance as well as the founder of Alter Ego Management. He is an MC and composer of techno music used by jit artists. Faison played a big part in the exotic entertainment scene from the late 1980's into the 2000's and was influential in the development of jitting as a major component in the exotic dance world in Detroit. I have also reflected on my own journey as a dancer and my life experiences, all of which led me to explore these ideas.

Why is it that art forms such as hip-hop dance are passed down through generations, but not often formally documented? I make the argument that it is important to document these forms so that the past is never forgotten and so people can learn from the past to continue the evolution of art. Does this lack of formal documentation keep these art forms from getting the recognition they deserve? In terms of being recognized on an equal basis with European art forms, I believe it does. We must understand how important it is to document this work so that our modern-day culture can look at the past in order to better understand the present. I want to be able to bring a better appreciation of the significance of this art form to people of all walks of life. Many audiences understand that movement is often reused and adapted, but many do not know that the original purpose or meaning of these movements is often changed to represent something entirely different. It is natural for art forms to change as they evolve, but it is necessary to know the cultural origins, especially if art is to be respected and have its rightful place in the world.

An example of the lack of recognition that African-American art forms are given can be found in the use of the word "ethnic." This word is often a code word for "less than," in comparison to European art forms. Could this be related to the fact that European cultures tend to have more formal documentation of their art forms? I hope to be able to answer these questions and uncover the hidden connections that will shine a light on this vital form of dance.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Smith, Sheldon
Commitee: Murphy, Ann
School: Mills College
Department: Dance
School Location: United States -- California
Source: MAI 53/01M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: African American Studies, Dance
Keywords: Detroit, Jitting, The Jit
Publication Number: 1557488
ISBN: 9781303949340
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