Willi Ninja, popular American dancer, was celebrated by Google Doodle on Friday. The 45-year-old, whose real name was William Roscoe Leake, is known as the ‘Godfather of Voguing’ – a dance form.

Willi died in 2006 in New York.

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Google had a video Doodle for Willi Ninja. It was illustrated by Rob Gilliam, and edited by Xander Opiyo. The 47-second clip featured several performers from a community Leake created – ‘The Iconic House of Ninja’. Their names are: Archie Burnett Ninja, Javier Madrid Ninja, Kiki Ninja, and Akiko Tokuoka aka KiT Ninja.

On June 9 in 1990, the documentary Paris is Burning, featuring Willi and the Iconic House of Ninja, was released in the US at the NewFest New York LGBT Film Festival.

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Who was Willi Ninja?

Born William Roscoe Leake in Middletown, New York, Willi Ninja was an American dancer and choreographer. He grew up in Flushing, Queens with his mother who supported his gay identity.

Willi was a self-taught dancer and is known as the ‘Godfather of Voguing’. His influences included Kemetic hieroglyphics, young Michael Jackson, Fred Astaire, Olympic gymnasts, and Asian culture.

Voguing is a dance form ‘that blends fashion poses with intricate, mime and martial arts-like movements’, Google says.

“The dance form emerged from the Harlem ballroom scene, which was a safe space founded by LGBTQ+ Black and Latino folks to celebrate self-expression and togetherness.”

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Ninja featured in several dance videos – Malcolm McLaren’s “Deep in Vogue” and “I Can’t Get No Sleep” by Masters At Work featuring India. He released his single ‘Hot’ in 1994. The 45-year-old also modeled for Jean-Paul Gaultier. The Paris is Burning documentary happened in 2006.

“Inspired by Egyptian hieroglyphs and martial arts, Willi introduced new dance techniques that redefined voguing standards. Catapulted to stardom in the ’90s, Willi went on to perform in films, music videos, and luxury runway shows around the world. His moves inspired celebrities ranging from Madonna to Jean-Paul Gaultier,” Google wrote on its Doodle page.

Willi is known as one of the first ones to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS prevention. He died of the disease.