“A landmark documentary...delineates how virtuosity becomes identity”
- Debra Cash, NPR/WBUR
Willi Ninja (William Leake, b.1961- d.2006), the Legendary Vogue dancer, helped focus attention on Vogueing when he was featured in Jennie Livingston’s documentary, Paris is Burning (1991).
Mother of the House of Ninja, he began dancing as a little kid in Flushing, NY, a culturally diverse neighborhood where African-American, European-, Asian-, "Other-", Latino-American populations are about equally represented. Self-taught and double-jointed, Ninja claimed his style was shaped, in part, by the Asian and Indian movement-articulations he saw every day in Flushing.
He combined personal observations with moves from martial-arts flicks, fashion model poses, watching TV PBS/Dance In America and Soul Train, as well as the “Motown Shows” at the Apollo Theater. He danced with the fierce attitude and precision of samurai (Ninja) warriors. His distinctive Vogue style won him respect and trophies at competition drag-queen Balls. Ninja was a special guest artist with the Doug Elkins Company at The Joyce Theater, he performed with David Neumann and Karole Armitage, choreographed “The House of Ninja” for Delacorte Theater Summerstage, Théâtre de Suresnes Jean Vilar in Paris, and danced in numerous music videos. Most importantly, Ninja merged Vogue dancing back into the fashion world that inspired it, modeling and choreographing runway shows for Jean Paul Gaultier and Thierry Mugler, and working with such models as Naomi Campbell. He also choreographed for and groomed Japanese female singing groups.
In 2004, he opened a modeling agency, EON, which stands for “Elements of Ninja,” and continued to appear on various television series, like America’s Next Top Model.