An acclaimed dancer and choreographer, Willi Ninja paved a path for Black LGBTQ+ representation and acceptance in the 1980s and ’90s
His dance move shot him up to fame on a global stage. He was featured in films, music videos, and also made appearances at fashion shows across the world. Photo Courtesy: Google
Google Doodle is celebrating Willi Ninja, an American dancer and ballroom icon whose 1990 documentary film ‘Paris in burning’ was released on June 9 at the NewFest New York LGBT Film Festival. This dancer and choreographer was also known as the ‘godfather’ of voguing – a dance form that originated in the 1980s within the LGBTQ+ community. This dance form involves crisp movements and dramatic poses which are a strong medium of expression.
In a statement, Google said, “An acclaimed performer, Willi paved a path for Black LGBTQ+ representation and acceptance in the 1980s and ’90s.” Google shared, “The Doodle video was illustrated by Rob Gilliam, and edited by Xander Opiyo, with original music by Vivacious. The performers featured are current members of the House of Ninja (Archie Burnett Ninja, Javier Madrid Ninja, Kiki Ninja, and Akiko Tokuoka aka KiT Ninja) dancing in celebration of Willi’s legacy.”
Born on April 12, 1961, William Roscoe Leake has played an exceptional role in making ‘Voguing’ a unique dance form with his intricate hand and arm gesture. The movements are inspired by Egyptian hieroglyphs and martial arts. Today, this dance form continues to stay relevant in the LGTBQ community as a medium of expression. The dance form emerged from the Harlem ballroom scene, which was a safe space founded by LGBTQ+ Black and Latino folks to celebrate self-expression.
Ninja is also the creator of the community, “The Iconic House of Ninja” that came into being in 1982. It remains popular even today. Besides this, the dancer largely influenced the New York drag scene acting as an inspiration to global artists like Madonna.
His dance move shot him up to fame on a global stage. He was featured in films, music videos, and also made appearances at fashion shows across the world.
Ninja grew up in Flushing, Queens in New York. His mother was very supportive of his identity and encouraged his interest in dance. She used to take him to ballet performances in the city. Although she couldn’t afford expensive dance lessons, it didn’t stop Ninja from teaching himself the moves that ended up making him a star.
Google's statement also read, “When Willi wasn’t dancing, he was a powerful advocate for his community. One of the first to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS prevention at drag balls, Willi played a pivotal role in helping to reduce stigma surrounding the disease.”
Ninja breathed his last on September 2, 2006 suffering from AIDS-related heart failure in New York City.
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