The days of Club Marshall in Barbican here in Jamaica in the late 80s and then through to Club Entourage Brian Williamson founded and managed then closed in 2005 after his tragic murder and my debut ground towards my 20 year DJ/LGBT party promoter journey; the children/club kidz watched in old days VHS videos of the latest moves were recorded and sourced from the likes of Willie, Paris and such. DJs such as Ricky or the late Boswell (who preceded me at the Club Entourage as the vogue/dancemusic DJ) made sure they had the latest beats so the kids after a local dancehall set would vogue up a storm especially during pride season in the US; those who could not afford to travel but saw the magazines mimicked the moves and dished about the New York children etc. Then came that Paris is Burning documentary in 1990 which brought a once underground gay scene art form to mainstream media coupled with the live performance of Willie Ninja and others such as Jose Xtravanganza at that infamous Ford Modelling scouting campaign and AIDS fundraiser.
Vogue was birthed out of ‘Reading’ a spontaneous and clever insults by one effeminate usual African descented men in the US to another in a verbal knock down and sometimes dragged out battle; especially the east coast in New York which spread westwards to LA; then came ‘Shade’ essentially a more sophisticated form of reading but for the physical fights at parties and early ballroom events with rival houses such as the snooty Pepper Labeija (photo below)
Anyway I am not going to be shady or do a reading I’ll just be fierce for this entry. We are they gagging so? ......... I’ll never know.
Madonna was astounded by the energy and impact of the vogue dancers at a McLaren event in Los Angeles in 1990, co-wrote her song Vogue and recruited Jose and Luis Xtravaganza from the family that was the House of Ninja. They injected the real dancing into Madonna's performances and her record label upgraded the song from a B-side. It became a worldwide hit. The house-rave scene was already underway in Britain and across Europe, but it was enormously boosted by these developments.
Vogueing had echoes of the defiant 19th-century African-American Sunday parading and the not-so-pretended putdown glares of female partners passing each other in Afro-Caribbean styles of the quadrille. The evolution of the spectacular faggots' balls - as everyone called them - at the Rockland Palace and Savoy Ballroom in Harlem in the 1920s provided a location where those older dance expressions could infuse the glamorous aspirations of the largely cross-dressing participants.
The 1980s vogueing scene injected more dance by returning to the fluid styles of lindy hopping from the 1930s era of swing, rather than the alternative "stepping styles" that hip-hop had utilized so extensively. Thus as the initial hip-hop scene declined in the 1980s, its characteristic "challenge circle" was replaced by the gay scene's runway style of confrontation.
Although appreciative of McLaren's "foxy talents", as Ninja once put it to me, it was Jenni Livingstone's award-winning film of New York's drag ball-vogueing scene, Paris Is Burning (1990), that put Ninja in a more congenial position in the gay fashion scene. It captured the 1987-89 vogueing scene, expressing its defiant acceptance of everyone rejected by those attempting to morally homogenise the US. The excitement of that drag-vogueing scene receded in the 1990s but interest in Ninja and his milieu persisted. Fashion work became a staple, although he was increasingly disenchanted with the exploitation of fashion no-hopers charged extortionate fees to "prepare" for modelling.
It took modern dancers as courageous as Doug Elkin and Karol Armitage to include him in their productions, for Ninja was a hard act to follow. There were television appearances too, and Sally Sommer recorded Ninja and other house dancers for her epic work, Check Your Body at the Door, that should be completed soon. Ninja made one of his last appearances on Barbara Orton's BBC production Bruce Goes Dancing in 2005 in which he commented on the "cart horse" attempts of pop stars at runway walking on pop videos.
He did not always abide by the cautions he gave to his own house family, young gay men and voguers about the dangers of "living for the fast life". But he bravely faced his end with the equanimity that characterized his life.
Ninja never let his extraordinary talent divert him from playing a positive role, whether dealing with gay scene rivals, homophobic hip-hop dancers, or pop stars who wanted to use him. Modest, riveting when dancing, he displayed a proper concern for young people who joined the House of Ninja.
The name Vogue is a statement in and of itself and burrows from the poses of the models as well in the magazine which was around then, the artform strives for perfect form and lines of the body with some gymnastic influences to complete the package.
Willie’s distinctive style is the arching of his body and hands emulating the Egyptian hieroglyphs in the early years on the scene but he soon drew influence from the ninja craze from Hollywood then in movies acting as a precursor to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie then cartoon and merchandising series which has lasted to today. Willie stood out from the other gurlz/queens/divos and when he was on the floor it is clear who is in charge as all else for all intents and purposes stops for him to see which or where are the newest moves he would be bringing.
here is one of his last appearances on film in this short documentary:
A real influence to gay culture worldwide