Was Willi Ninja Gay: Willi Ninja, an accomplished American dancer, and choreographer, made significant contributions to the world of dance. Renowned as the ‘Godfather of Voguing’, Ninja gained widespread recognition for his memorable appearance in the documentary Paris is Burning, delving into the vibrant LGBTQ+ culture of 1980s America.
Although Ninja tragically died at 45 in 2006, his enduring legacy continues to inspire countless individuals. Recently, on the anniversary of Paris is Burning’s release, Google paid tribute to this influential dancer by featuring him in a captivating Google Doodle.
As the Google Doodle gained attention and admiration, it sparked curiosity among viewers. Consequently, a surge of online searches emerged, with people eagerly seeking answers about Willi Ninja’s sexual orientation.
In this article, we delve into the details and provide you with comprehensive insights into the life of Willi Ninja and his personal journey.
Who was Willi Ninja?
Willi Ninja, originally named William Roscoe Leake was born in 1961. He discovered his passion for dance through self-teaching during his formative years.
In his twenties, Ninja embraced voguing, a unique dance style that he personalized by infusing influences from Egyptian hieroglyphs and martial arts, thereby creating a distinctive artistic expression.
His unmatched skill in this art form earned him the well-deserved moniker of the ‘Godfather of Voguing’.
What is Voguing?
Voguing, inspired by the iconic Vogue magazine, is a captivating dance style that draws upon the graceful poses of high fashion and the artistic imagery of ancient Egyptian art.
Originating within the vibrant Harlem ballroom scene, this dance form was established by New York’s LGBTQ+ Black and Latino community as a means of celebrating Self-Expression, Unity, and providing a safe haven for individuals to express themselves freely.
Central to the ballroom culture are the houses, and groups to which most participants belong. In 1982, Willi Ninja co-founded the renowned House of Ninja, leaving an indelible mark on the scene.
The unique style and captivating culture of voguing were documented in the influential 1990 film, Paris is Burning, which showcased the ballroom scene. Additionally, it gained widespread popularity through music videos such as Malcolm McLaren’s 1989 hit, Deep in Vogue, and Madonna’s iconic 1990 song titled Vogue.
Was Willi Ninja Gay?
Yes, Willi Ninja was gay. During an interview with Joan Rivers, Willi shared a personal revelation about his sexual orientation. Interestingly, he had never explicitly disclosed this aspect of his identity to his mother; it was she who approached him about it, confidently asserting that “mothers always know.”
In a touching display of love and acceptance, Willi’s mother assured him that she would always cherish and support him unconditionally, simply because he was her son. This heartwarming experience stands in stark contrast to the challenging realities faced by African American and Latino gay and transgender youth, whom Willi later became a mentor.
Back in the early 1980s, Willi established the Video Pretenders, a dance group inspired by notable figures such as Fred Astaire, Olympic gymnasts, and martial artists. Their performances primarily involved mimicking the dance moves showcased in music videos displayed on club screens.
However, they quickly recognized the need to create their own unique choreography to truly captivate audiences.
Willi’s initial foray into voguing took place at prominent LGBTQ youth hangouts like Washington Square Park and Christopher Street Pier. It was there that he made his grand debut in drag ball culture, a vibrant scene that first gained popularity during the Harlem Renaissance. Notably, the inaugural gay masquerade took place at Harlem’s Hamilton Lodge way back in 1869.
Originally referred to as “Masquerades” in newspapers, these events eventually acquired nicknames like “Fag Balls” or the “Parade of The Fairies” through word of mouth.
Willi Ninja’s Cause of Death
On September 2, 2006, Willi Ninja died of heart failure, a consequence of his battle with AIDS. Even during his lifetime, he was among the pioneering figures who championed AIDS awareness within the drag ball community.
The profound impact Willi had on those who collaborated with him cannot be overstated. His colleagues held him in high esteem and acknowledged his invaluable contributions.
Reflecting on Willi’s influence, Madonna remarked, “He served as a tremendous cultural inspiration for me and countless others, leaving an indelible mark on our lives.”
Remarkably, Willi persisted in his artistic endeavors right up until the year of his passing. Notably, he made an appearance in the 2006 documentary titled “How Do I Look,” further cementing his enduring legacy.
What is ‘Paris is Burning’ About?
‘Paris is Burning,’ directed by Jennie Livingston, is a captivating film that delves into the vibrant LGBTQ+ ball culture of 1980s New York.
Upon its release in 1990, this documentary garnered immense praise from critics and the general audience alike, establishing itself as a priceless testament to the heyday of drag balls in the city.
The film’s significance reached new heights in 2016 when the Library of Congress acknowledged its cultural, historical, and aesthetic value, leading to its selection for preservation in the esteemed United States National Film Registry.
The title of the film pays homage to Paris Dupree, an influential artist who organized an annual ball, and who also makes an appearance in the documentary.
For Ninja, ‘Paris is Burning’ acted as a pivotal stepping stone in both his personal journey and artistic career. Its impact catapulted him into the spotlight, enabling him to make appearances in music videos and grace prestigious catwalks across the globe.