The Godfather of Vogue, Willi Ninja, was a self-taught dancer and choreographer, model and model coach, recording artist and “Mother.” Though not the creator of vogueing, Ninja mastered and popularized the dance form and elevated its visibility from the club/balls to the catwalk.
While vogueing with other dancers in Greenwich Village’s Washington Square Park he caught the eye of filmmaker Jennie Livingston and landed a prominent spot in her 1990 doc Paris is Burning about African-American, Latino, gay and transgender communities involved in NYC’s ball culture. Ninja’s career continued to climb and he went on to model for Jean Paul Gaultier and Thierry Mugler, coached the likes of Naomi Campbell, Iman and Paris Hilton, appeared in music videos for Janet Jackson and inspired Madonna who presented the art of vogue to the mainstream.
Ninja, who was inspired by Asian culture and martial arts, established the House of Ninja in 1982, which reportedly consisted of some of the best dancers. Ninja died in 2006 at 45 from AIDS-related heart failure, however, the House of Ninja is still fully operational.