Google Doodle pays tribute to 'Godfather of Vogue'

Ninja was 45 when he died due to AIDS-related heart failure

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On 9 June 1990, a documentary called Paris is Burning was released in the NewFest New York LGBT Film Festival in the US. It featured Willi Ninja and his House of Ninja, the eponymous ballroom house he set up, and the community that made it 'home'.

LGBTQIA+ icon Willi Ninja is best known for creating the dance form now known as voguing. If you think you have never heard of it, much less seen it... remember the aliens in the Imagine Dragons' 'Thunder' video? They voguing!

In honour of pride month, Google has dedicated its animated doodle to Ninja.

Known as the 'Godfather of Vogue', Ninja helped move the dance form from the New York club scene of the 1980s to the concert stage.

The doodle that Google has featured has a big play icon inside the disco ball in the middle. When users hit play, a brief YouTube video opens up of 'The Iconic House of Ninja', a community the dancer created, that lives on even 17 years after his death.

Drag houses originated in New York as part of the ballroom scene, wherein black and Latin drag queens organised ballroom pageants as a way of resisting racism and celebrating queer culture. Rival houses took part in pageants and won prizes. Houses functioned as alternative families for individuals disenfranchised from their biological families.

A New York Times report describes the dance form as "angular body movements, exaggerated model poses and intricate mimelike choreography."

"Vogueing had been around for years, but Willi Ninja brought it to a level of visibility and perfection in performance that no one had ever reached before," says Sally Sommer, a professor of dance at Florida State University.

The dance form received mainstream recognition when pop icon Madonna released her song "Vogue" from her album I'm Breathless. Before this, voguing was restricted to drag balls frequented by black drag queens in Harlem, New York.

Janet Upadhye, writing for Huffington Post quotes an individual called Karma, who was under the mentorship of the late Willi Ninja.

"I was walking around seeing what was going on when I saw this guy in the corner who was literally capturing the attention of everyone in the building," says Karma about Ninja. "I gravitated towards him. I couldn't take my eyes off him."


William R. Leake was born in Queens on April 12, 1961, and grew up in Flushing. He began dancing at 7. By the early 1980’s he was vogueing in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village and at drag balls throughout Harlem. 

"As the “mother” of the House of Ninja, part dance troupe, part surrogate family, he became a New York celebrity, known as much for his quick wit and sharp tongue as for his darting limbs," the New York Times report says.

Ninja was 45 when he died due to AIDS-related heart failure.

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