strike a pose

Today’s Google Doodle celebrates a queer, ballroom legend

The Willi Ninja Google Doodle
The Willi Ninja Google Doodle (Google)

Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the legendary Willi Ninja. Many refer to the American dancer and choreographer as “the godfather of voguing”.

Ninja was born William Roscoe Leake on April 12, 1961, in Long Island, New York. A self-taught dancer, he perfected his vogueing style of dancing in his early 20s.

He practiced his style on the Christopher Street Piers, drawing inspiration from fashion catwalks to Egyptian hieroglyphics and Asian martial arts (hence the ‘Ninja’ name) He quickly became a well-known figure on Harlem’s ballroom scene and founded his own “House of Ninja”.

Voguing took its name from Vogue magazine. Dancers throw exaggerated shapes and poses as if imagining themselves gracing a photoshoot in the iconic magazine. It quickly caught on among attendees at the drag balls, predominantly populated by Black and Latino LGBTQ+ people.

Ninja featured in the seminal documentary, Paris Is Burning. He also featured in several music videos, including Malcolm McLaren’s “Deep in Vogue” and Janet Jackson’s “Escapade”.

He died from AIDS-related illness on September 2, 2006. “The Iconic House of Ninja” continues to this day and Ninja’s life and work remain an influence on many artists.

Google tribute to Willi Ninja

Today’s Doodle features a video with current members of the House of Ninja demonstrating voguing. Original music is provided by Vivacious.

“An acclaimed performer, Willi paved a path for Black LGBTQ+ representation and acceptance in the 1980s and ’90s,” Google said.

“On this day in 1990, the documentary Paris is Burning – which features Willi and the Iconic House of Ninja – was released in the US at the NewFest New York LGBT Film Festival,” said Google’s tribute.

The Doodle links to a fulsome history of the ballroom scene (the backdrop for the TV show, Pose). It includes a wealth of photos from ballroom’s different eras, profiles of the scene’s icons, and a look at current ballroom culture.