Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Willi Ninja: Grandfather of Vogue

Although it wasn't a line that was used in my favorite movie, "Desk Set," I immediately thought to myself, "When in doubt, check The New York Times." I looked up the obituary published by the NYTimes following the passing of Willi Ninja. Willi was a star in the "Ball" community. In fact, The New York Times referred to Willi as the "Grandfather of Vogue" . Here is some more information from that same obituary:


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, said Sally Sommer, a professor of dance at Florida State University (See NYTimes obituary tribute for Willi Ninja).

From what I know about Willi from the documentary How Do I Look, I know that he was an inspiration to a lot of people. And it was no doubt through connecting with so many people (including celebrities and personalities) that Willi helped popularize "Vogue" as a dance form. I promise to keep looking for more references to how "Vogue" was popularized.

1 comment:

The current exModians said...

It is an interesting thing this internet. I was looking up that very obituary for our yearly tribute to Willi on our blog.

You see, Willi was more than an inspiration. He helped create many of us! I personally would not be who and what I am had I not met Willi. Willi and I hosted a fundraiser at the LGBT Center in Manhattan for "How Do I Look" when almost no one was paying attention to Wolfgang's film outside the ballroom scene. Then we held another one several months later with Emanuel Xavier, Mother Leila Shade and Mother Diva Xavier at the Bowery Poetry Club.

I helped Willi get involved with the film and helped Wolfgang network with ballroom scenes across the country. Willi traveled with Wolfgang to help promote it.

But besides that, Willi created voguing. Yes, he did. Nobody ever tells the story correctly. But that's to be expected, there are precious few of us who have seen every single style of voguing done on the runway...1970s, old way (which in when I came out was new way, the style that Willi created), and new way (the style that Willi helped create and was subsequently developed by the likes of Rubberband Jose Xtrava, now father Jose Xtravaganza).

But make sure you always know this. There would be no voguing today had Willi not reinvented the static posing that was being done on the 1970s ballroom runways. And there probably wouldn't have been a "Paris is Burning" or a "How Do I Look." Why? Because when Willi became a member of the House of Ninja in 1980, he wasn't mother of the house yet. And he was just beginning to define voguing, to create it. Everything that came after that was an imitation and an expansion on the foundations that Willi laid down. This scene is overwhelmed with egos. With people who seek credit tooth and nail and at all cost, including the cost of the truth. Some of us, however, had a very good upbringing and we know better and act better. Because some of us had a very good mother. Willi Ninja.

I have always been a stickler for proper ballroom homage. You can read countless posts on my strong stance on paying proper homage on my stint as moderator of House of Balls Yahoo group.

It is without question that if all you know of Willi is "How Do I Look" or "Paris is Burning", you know very little about him. You don't know how isntrumental he was in making that film what it is, or how instrumental he was in making voguing what it is, or how instrumental he was in making the ballroom scene what it is. Or how instrumental he was in creating some of the supermodels that grace the runways of the world's best designers today.

There may be a better voguer than Willi one day. Although I highly doubt it. That better voguer has already come and died, he was Willi's child (and my ex boyfriend) Portuguese-born Fernando Ninja who was killed in 1989. By even Willi's admission Fernando was without equal. Completely double-joined in every joint in his body, watching Fernando vogue was like watching a lava lamp. It was that fluid, it was that breathtaking.

I finally got my copy of "How Do I Look" from Wolfgang...at Willi's funeral. The cycles of life and death are truly amazing.

Wari Shade