September 09, 2006

Willi Ninja, R.I.P.

The "Godfather of Voguing," Willi Ninja, died in New York City this week. Most of the obituaries focus on how Ninja was one of the stars of the fabulous documentary, Paris Is Burning, the marvelous 1990 documentary, and how Willi inspired Madonna's song and choreography for Vogue. All true.

But I'll remember Ninja most for his generosity to me. One of the ways Ninja made a living was by working with models and modeling agencies, instructing women about the right way to walk down the runway. In Why Do Pirates Love Parrots?, I write about why women sway their hips more than men. I spoke to several models who urged me to speak to Willi. We talked on the phone for almost an hour, and to be honest, he wasn't the flamboyant figure I saw in the documentary more than a decade before. Although we were not talking about curing cancer or eradicating global warning, Ninja took the question seriously.

The most fun part of my job is when I talk to experts who are bursting with enthusiasm and curiosity about their field. Willi was one of those passionate people. I never got a chance to meet him or even see him perform in person and I'm going to miss him; I can only imagine the loss to his family and friends.