Willi Ninja, often referred to as the “Godfather of Voguing,” was a prominent figure in the underground ballroom scene in New York City. He played a pivotal role in popularizing voguing, a dance form that emerged from the Harlem ballroom scene in the 1980s. Here’s what you need to know about Willi Ninja:
- Early Life and Background: Willi Ninja was born on April 12, 1961, in Queens, New York. He had a difficult childhood and faced challenges related to his identity and sexual orientation. Ninja discovered voguing at a young age and found solace and empowerment in the dance form.
- Voguing and the Ballroom Scene: Voguing originated from the African-American and Latino LGBTQ+ community in New York City. It draws inspiration from fashion poses and model movements and combines them with acrobatic and intricate dance steps. The ballroom scene, where voguing evolved, provided a safe space for marginalized individuals to express themselves and compete in various categories.
- Legendary Voguer: Willi Ninja became known for his exceptional voguing skills, particularly in the “Old Way” style, characterized by angular movements, lines, and poses. He developed his unique style, incorporating elements of martial arts, gymnastics, and modern dance. His performances were marked by precision, grace, and creativity, making him a respected and admired figure in the ballroom community.
- House of Ninja: Willi Ninja founded the House of Ninja, one of the most prominent “houses” within the ballroom scene. Houses are like chosen families that provide support, mentorship, and camaraderie to their members. The House of Ninja became renowned for its talented voguers and won numerous awards and trophies in ballroom competitions.
- Cultural Impact: Willi Ninja played a pivotal role in bringing voguing into the mainstream consciousness. He featured prominently in Malcolm McLaren’s 1989 music video for the song “Deep in Vogue,” which helped introduce the dance form to a wider audience. Ninja’s skills and contributions also influenced the iconic documentary film “Paris Is Burning” (1990), which explored the ballroom culture of New York City.
- Beyond Voguing: Apart from his voguing career, Willi Ninja also worked as a choreographer, model, and dance teacher. He collaborated with numerous artists, including fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier, and performed in various countries around the world. Ninja’s talent and charisma earned him recognition as a trailblazer and influential figure in both the dance and LGBTQ+ communities.
- Legacy: Willi Ninja’s impact on the world of voguing and the ballroom scene cannot be overstated. He helped transform voguing from an underground dance form to a global phenomenon. His artistry, passion, and advocacy for self-expression and inclusivity continue to inspire generations of dancers and performers.
Unfortunately, Willi Ninja passed away on September 2, 2006, at the age of 45, leaving behind a rich legacy that continues to shape the world of dance and queer culture.