Meet the Man Who is Sharing a Detroit-Born Dance With the World

Thanks to a $150,000 grant, the founder of House of Jit can share this Detroit-born dance style and its culture with the community and beyond.
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Michael Manson Jr., founder and director of House of Jit, teaches locals a dance style that originated in Detroit. // Photograph by Jacob Lewkow.

As a kid, Michael Manson Jr. danced in his bedroom, trying to imitate Michael Jackson’s moves, or Usher’s.

“My mom would put me on punishment,” he says. “That would be OK because I had a radio in there.”

When his mother realized her punishments weren’t going very far, she took away his radio.

“I was still in there dancing,” he says. He danced in silence. “Dancing,” he says, “is the heartbeat of my soul.”

The founder and director of the Detroit-based dance collective House of Jit, Manson is known nationwide as one of only a handful of people who dance and teach Detroit jit, a style of dance started on the streets of Detroit in the 1970s that blends aspects of jazz, tap, modern, and African dance to produce something entirely unique and native to the city.

While Manson describes house dance as a more community-centered, “earthy, vibe-ish thing,” Detroit jit “can be that, but it’s aggressive, it’s gritty, it’s spiritual, … so you’ve gotta tap in — you can’t do it soft. … Jit is not a happy dance. It’s a street style.” When he dances, Manson adds, “I’m just a representation of what the city went through while creating it. Jit is a part of our culture in Detroit. … It’s in our DNA.”

In February, Manson got a big boost in making sure all Detroiters have access to learning about this style of dance when House of Jit was awarded a $150,000 grant by Seed and Bloom, an initiative that supports BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) artists in Detroit. Launched by the Gilbert Family Foundation and United States Artists, the initiative aims to help the artists grow their practices into sustainable businesses in Detroit neighborhoods by providing them with technical assistance, capital, and more.

Michael Manson Jr., founder and director of House of Jit. // Photograph by Jacob Lewkow

Manson is no stranger to prizes. In 2020 — five years after he was featured on So You Think You Can Dance — he was awarded a Kresge Artist Fellowship. It came with a $25,000 no-strings- attached grant and one year of professional development support. That support helped to demystify the grant application process, Manson says. Up until that point, “the grant world was like a secret society.” He has a nice metaphor to describe all this: “Kresge,” Manson says, “was the foundation [for House of Jit].”

Since other dancers associated with Manson’s collective weren’t as knowledgeable about the grant application process, Manson was able to share what he learned during his Kresge fellowship with them.

“I just want to pour into the community,” Manson says — a generosity he shares not only with House of Jit dancers but also with Detroit-area kids, whom he frequently mentors through Detroit Public Schools and the Boys & Girls Club in Highland Park and other locations on Detroit’s west side.

“Instead of following the trends on TikTok,” Manson says, “[I want to] show these kids that their state — their city — created a style that they can keep pushing.”

Manson says his larger goal is “to showcase jit, to spread the knowledge, and to share the culture, share the music, so jit won’t die off when we’re done.”

As far as the Seed and Bloom grant, Manson says the bulk of the award will go toward regular business expenses — things like dancers’ pay, rehearsal spaces, and branded clothing.

But in the long term, Manson has his sights set on a community facility dedicated to health and wellness. Dance would be offered but wouldn’t necessarily be the focus; the “bigger picture,” he says, would involve educating visitors about their physical and mental health.

Jit, Manson says, is “generational. I know that I’m not only dancing for myself; I’m dancing for those before me. These aren’t moves that I created — it’s just passed down. And some of the things that I think I created, I find out that I didn’t. It shows me that I’m just holding on to the torch until someone else can, [or] I can pass it to someone else. And to be honest, I have.”

Ultimately, Manson says he’d also like to write a book about Detroit jit that would describe the culture surrounding it as well as “the music, the movement, and dance.” The book “will break down where jit began, where it evolved, and where it ends. And I’ll put ‘dot, dot, dot, dot,’ because it’s not going to end. It’s going to keep creating [and] recreating itself, like everything up under the sun does.”


This story originally appeared in the June 2024 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. To read more, pick up a copy of Hour Detroit at a local retail outlet. Our digital edition will be available on June 6.