Willi Ninja, a pioneer of voguing, dἰed of complications related to AIDS at the age of 45 on June 8, 2006. William Roscoe Leake, better known by his stage name Willi Ninja, was an American performer and choreographer best known for his role in the documentary film Paris Is Burning.
Ninja, a gἀy man known as the godfather of voguing, was an integral part of the ball culture at Harlem’s drag festivities. He drew inspiration from diverse sources, including Fred Astaire and haute couture, to develop a distinctive style of dance and movement.
He attracted the interest of Paris Is Burning director Jennie Livingston, who prominently featured Ninja in the film. The film’s critical and commercial success gave Ninja a boost. He capitalized on his appearance by performing with a number of dance troupes and landing choreography jobs.
Do you realize that one of the brightest stars of reality television has left us? Anna Shay, the “Bling Empire” star, pἀssed away, and her family described her as the “brightest ray of sunshine”:
In 1989, Ninja starred in the music video for Malcolm McLaren’s single “Deep in Vogue”, which sampled the then-unfinished film and brought Ninja’s style to the mainstream. One year later, Madonna issued her number-one single “Vogue,” which brought additional attention to the dancing style.
In New York City, Ninja pἀssed away on September 2, 2006, from heἀrt faἰlure caused by AIDS. Since his pἀssing, he has inspired numerous artists and music DJs. Ninja is a central figure in LGBTQ studies, gender studies, and performance studies due to his trἀnsgressive and nonconforming gender expression as an artist.
His presence is described, for instance, in the book Black S*xualities by Juan Battle and Sandra L. Barnes. On June 9, 2023, Google Doodle featured a tribute to Ninja.
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