Discover the artform and community that started an underground revolution
Start From the Beginning
Celebrate the founding of a cultural movement by and for trans women of color
Ballroom's Origin Story
Ballroom's origin story reaches back to the time of the Harlem Renaissance, but the Ballroom scene we know today really took off in the 1970s.
Ballroom Begins as An Act of Resistance to Racism
In the early 1970’s, also referred to as the Golden era, the legendary trans drag queen Crystal LaBeija, began hosting balls specifically for Black people as a response to racism in New York’s larger downtown drag scene and soon after established the House of LaBeija.
Black Trans Women Pioneered Ballroom
After Crystal LaBeija formed the House of LaBeija, other houses soon followed: Chanel, Ebony, Extravaganza, Dupree, Pendavis, Corey, and LaWong.
So many of these houses were founded by Black trans women who created spaces of power, resistance and love.
What is a House?
Ballroom houses are structured to prepare its members for the balls and–most importantly– to serve as chosen families. Many Black queer and trans youth, renounced by their parents and shunned by their families and communities, have found safe harbor in the houses.
The Ballroom House and Family Structure
Houses have anointed ‘mothers’ and ‘fathers’ who guide and support their ‘children'. House parents become grandparents and godparents to the next generation, and ascend in the house’s hierarchy, becoming legends and, eventually icons.
The Story of Ballroom is also the Story of New York
Ballroom began in New York. In the different neighborhoods of the Village, Harlem, and the Christopher Street Piers. While Ballroom and New York have changed, New York is–always will be–its Mecca.
And It All Started in Harlem
Some of the first balls were hosted at the Harlem YMCA in the 1970’s, as seen in this photograph by Gerard Gaskin.
We Made Paris Burn
Ballroom is now in Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Tokyo, Mexico City, and Jerusalem, providing LGBTQ+ communities freedom, creativity and joy. Like Jazz and Hip Hop, Ballroom is part of the larger story of Black genius that has created cultural and global revolutions.
Ballroom Belongs to Us
Popular culture has always taken from Ballroom's genius--in language, dance and fashion.Too often the taking is done without giving credit to the community. But it all belongs to Ballroom, and it's time to give honor to the culture.
This is a Love Note to Ballroom
A space that insists on the beauty and joy of being Black, Brown, queer and trans. This digital archive is a love note to the pioneers of Ballroom who are no longer with us. This is a love note to the icons, legends, visionaries, and storytellers of Ballroom, then and now.
Meet Willi Ninja, the innovator of vogue and founder of the House of Ninja
Godfather, Pioneer, Icon
Born William Roscoe Leake, Willi Ninja, became the Godfather of Vogue, in New York City’s Ball scene of the 1980s and 90s.
Willi Ninja architected his distinctive style of vogue, using inspirations ranging from hieroglyphics to “catwalk”; he refined his style at the Christopher Street Piers, a staple cultural site of Ballroom history, in New York City.
The Artist and His House
Asian fighting styles influenced Willi's innovation of voguing and its art form. Willi also believed in building a “safe-house” for members of the Black, Brown queer and trans community. In 1982, he established the “House of Ninja” (HoN).
Willi's House, the House on Ninja--the HoN--innovated the technique of distinct lines created with the body. He rendered the name “Ninja” royal and central to the 1980s Ball scene.
He Made Paris Burn
Willi's significant role in the 1990 documentary, Paris is Burning, showed him as a pioneer in choreography and dance technique. Paris is Burning assisted in lifting him to commercial success, with projects ranging from music videos, to film and TV
Ninja’s legacy is the legacy of voguing, and the exquisite form of dance and expression that he brilliantly developed. Ninja passed away on September 2nd, 2006, in New York City, but remains deathless in his art.