American dancer and choreographer William Roscoe Leake (April 12, 1961 – September 2, 2006), better known as Willi Ninja, was featured in the documentary film Paris Is Burning.
Known as the “godfather of voguing,” Ninja was a regular at Harlem’s drag events and drew inspiration for his signature dancing technique from a wide variety of sources, including Fred Astaire and the world of haute couture.
Director Jennie Livingston saw potential in him, and the character of Ninja was given a significant role in her film Paris Is Burning. The film’s critical and commercial success gave Ninja a boost. He used his looks to get jobs dancing and choreographing for various groups.
The incomplete movie was sampled in the 1989 music video for Ninja’s style-defining song “Deep in Vogue” by Malcolm McLaren. A year later, Madonna’s “Vogue” became a top hit, drawing even more attention to the dance.
From Where Did Willi Learn Dance?
Willi was a self-taught dancer who had honed his voguing style by the time he was in his thirties. He was born at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York. Willi claimed to have Irish, Cherokee, and Asian ancestry, despite being born to a black woman.
Jennie Livingston first learned about him by word of mouth among the voguers of Washington Square Park. He didn’t invent the style, but he took it to “an amazing level” of refinement via hard labor and focused attention to detail. The Kemetic hieroglyphic tradition, a youthful Michael Jackson, Fred Astaire, Olympic gymnastics, and the cultures of Asia all served as inspirations for him.
In Which Movies Willi Ninja Have Played?
Several movies and TV shows had Ninja as a lead character. On August 8, 1991, he and several cast members from Paris Are Burning, including Dorian Corey and Pepper LaBeija, appeared as guests on The Joan Rivers Show. The cast also included Jennie Livingston.
The show’s hosts discussed the documentary and urged viewers to “walk” like they were in the audience at a Drag Ball. In the same year, Ninja also appeared as a dancer in the short film Anthem, directed by Marlon Riggs.
When Did Willi Ninja Dἰe?
On September 2, 2006, in New York City, Ninja pἀssed away from heart failure caused by AIDS. Many musicians and DJs have cited him as an influence even after his deἀth.
Because of his transgressive and nonbinary gender expression as an artist, Ninja has become an important figure in the fields of LGBTQ studies, gender studies, and performance studies. One work that discusses his existence is Black S*xualities, written by Juan Battle and Sandra L. Barnes.
On June 9, 2023, a Google Doodle was released in celebration of Ninja. If you wanted to know other famous celebrities’ bios and more details then you can join us on our Twitter account.