Watch: Google honours "Grandfather of Vogue" Willi Ninja in new Doodle

Ninja was a key figure in New York City’s queer community, and is most commonly known for his appearance in the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning.

Photo of Willi Ninja in black and white, doing a flexibility exercise.
Image: Via Twitter - @JasShrink

On Friday, June 9, Google released a video Doodle celebrating the life and legacy of queer legend Willi Ninja, who was credited as one of the pioneers of voguing, a dance style that developed in the ballroom scene of the 1980s and 90s. The scene originated in New York City around the 1980s, and was a movement led primarily by Black and Latino LGBTQ+ folks.

Facing discrimination in the primarily white drag pageant scene at the time, members of the ballroom culture decided to host pageants of their own that were focused on inclusion for every queer person, including trans women and gay men.

Ninja, who was born in Queens in 1961, had a passion for dance at an early age, teaching himself when his mother wasn’t able to afford expensive dance lessons. He used his skills to innovate the dance style known as “voguing,” which involved miming fashion poses and acting out scenes in an expressive manner. Inspired by Egyptian art, this style of dance would go on to become an integral part of queer culture for its performances in the ballroom scene.

In 1982, he co-founded the House of Ninja, a network of predominantly Black and Latino queer folks who became each others’ chosen family after being rejected by their own due to homophobia. A staple of ballroom culture, his house was just one of many that were being created at the time. These spaces not only provided a safe space for its members, but also became an integral part of their local communities.


Ninja was featured in Paris is Burning, a documentary on the Ballroom scene in New York City, which featured his performances and signature moves. This launched his success in the public eye, and gave him the opportunity to perform in music videos, fashion shows, and films around the globe.

Ninja was also an advocate for those living with HIV/AIDS, spreading awareness and contributing to combat stigma at drag balls and community events.

Willi Ninja died from AIDS-related illness in 2006, leaving a lifetime of impact on the queer community in New York and beyond. His house still stands to this day, carrying on his legacy and dancing in his honour.

To watch the Doodle made by Google in honour of the dancer, click here.

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