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A compendium of queer people in the 19th and 20th centuries // Drawn and researched by Michele Rosenthal

Willi  Ninja

Willi Ninja 1961to –2006

American dancer, choreographer, model, and pioneer of voguing. Growing up in New York City, he quickly became involved with drag balls in Harlem, where gay people of color would gather and compete through dress and dance. Competitive dancing took the form of voguing, named for the angular high-fashion poses found in Vogue magazine. Ninja, the head of his own “House” which functioned like a chosen-family dance troupe, had a reputation for perfecting and furthering the dance style. Ball culture came to the mainstream in the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning, which helped further launch Ninja’s career. He danced and taught dance around the world, modeled for designers such as Jean-Paul Gaultier, and appeared in music videos such as Madonna’s “Vogue.” He also formed his own modeling agency, instructing models and celebrities such as Paris Hilton how to strut. He died of AIDS at 45.

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