Tributes poured out across the blogosphere over the weekend to Willi Ninja, a legendary figure in the New York dance scene who was instrumental in lifting the underground Black and Latino vogue balls into the public’s consciousness. Ninja starred in Jennie Livingston’s documentary Paris is Burning, and Malcolm McLaren and Madonna later took Ninja’s moves to the mainstream.
Ninja told The Washington Post in 1991 that the vogueing phenomenon was as much an expression of sexuality as it was a dance form: “I’ve been voguing for 11 years, but I didn’t have an inkling of it until I started. It was very underground. You basically didn’t even see the dance in mainstream clubs, because once people figured out where it came from, then they automatically assumed that if you’re doing this dance, then you must be. And the majority of kids at that time didn’t want to come out. I was in the closet then, but I was like, ‘Hey, this is great, this is a new dance form.’ And once I had it down pat, I was doing it everywhere.”
Willi Ninja had been hospitalized since July for complications from AIDS. He died on Saturday at 45.