Dancer Highlight v.8
Residing in Washington, DC, one of the many thriving dance scenes in the US, is an unsuspecting bundle of knowledge and talent known to many as Johnii Ninja. I first came across Johnii at a local battle in DC called ESS3. After seeing him get down there and than a few more times at events like "Four Hours of Funk" in Baltimore, it was clear this guy was well versed and studied in his dance arts. Eventually Johnii and I met each other, and soon had lots to talk about! I've thoroughly enjoyed the various conversations with him and felt it was worth giving our readers an inside look into what drives him as a dancer and also offer some exposure into the history and culture of Vogue.
We are excited to have Johnii teaching his craft at Dark Matter and Symbiotic's Helix Dance Workshops on April 27th. Word on the street is he might just have something special lined up for the main event that night as well! Be sure to check back here and on the Helix Facebook Event page as we will be dropping more details over the next 2 weeks.
Name: Johnathan Thomas
Dance Name: Johnii Ninja
Crew Affiliations: Culture Shock DC, GnC Crew, House of Ninja, and The Imperial House of Waacking
City/State: Washington, DC
Core Dance Styles: Vogue and Whaacking
Where to Find Johnii:
Years Dancing: I’ve been training since about 2004 but I’ve been freestyle dancing for as long as these legs could move.
Where do you draw your inspiration from? I get a lot of my inspiration just from everyday life. I often fall into deep thought which causes me to reflect on a lot, be it good or bad, so when I dance it’s always coming from a natural instinctive state of mind. When I do get out there, and I am moving or creating, it’s my way of telling people how I feel or delivering a message. I’m not usually one to talk about how I feel so dance usually does all the talking for me.
What Got You Into Dancing? Well, entertainment and artistry has always been in my family’s blood. My Grandmother and Aunt were singers, my Grandfather was a very talented musician that even played for Marvin Gaye in his early days and I have a few cousins who are deeply involved in musical production and dance as well, so I think it wasn’t something I “got into” more of just, this was something that was a part of me. I mean, I used to stand on speakers at family gatherings when I was little and dance for them lol.
What dancers have influenced you the most? WOW…There are a few. I’ll give you names and then tell you how or why. 1st person would be Jojo Diggs. She has had a huge impact on me on so many levels. Just her way of thinking and her freedom to express how she feels openly through her art form has always been nothing short of inspiring to me. I think I’ve learned a lot about embracing who I am as a Dancer and a person from her. Next would be Chris and Ama Law aka “Charma”. These two individuals have played a HUGE part in my evolution as a dancer. There was a time in my life where I wasn’t so sure about certain aspects of dance like choreo for instance. I dreaded it, LOL!! The process was always very difficult for me. I don’t know why, but it was, and whenever I felt as though I couldn’t do something or I wasn’t good enough, they were always there to coach me through it and build my confidence as far as that was concerned. Future Ninja is another major inspiration to me. I feel like his dedication to what he does and the way it ties into his discipline is a constant charge for me to become the best that I can be. He always has such a profound way of thinking and it’s very apparent as you watch him dance, It’s almost other worldly. Tyrone “The Bone” Proctor aka Father Ty. He is as animated as the sea is deep. He definitely brings a lot out of me as far as my own personality is concerned. Seeing him dance is like watching a musical, it’s a startlingly impressive thing to observe. I think I was able to tap into a lot of my character after just being able to be around him, but I think that goes for a lot of others. Lastly I would just be wrong if I didn’t mention this guy. Javier Ninja is one of my biggest inspirations and is probably the reason why I started doing the art of Vogue. Now I am not easily impressed by a lot of dancers. Of course I’ll give the occasional “Yaaaaasssssss” or wave the “Gay Finger” every once in a while but when it comes to Javi, it’s like watching fireworks. When he goes out to handle his business, he gets down to it and does his thing and ALWAYS manages to stay humble this is what I respect about him. He sets a very high standard for a lot of dancers and drives me to push myself a lot harder because I always want to become better at what I do, as do most dancers.
Johnii Ninja at Prelude DMV 2011
Dark Matter has not exposed our readers to very much on Vogue. Can you tell us a little bit about the history? Now, as I began exposing myself more and more in the style, of course I wanted to know more about the dance and where it came from. Speaking with some of the OG’s that are still with us today I’ve heard more than one variation about origin and time of how Vogue was initially created. I’ve heard that it began within the LGBT ballroom community during the late 70’s (Some say 20 or 30 years earlier) by the Pioneer Icon Paris Dupree who also starred in the movie "Paris Is Burning". The movie is about New York's ballroom scene in the early 80's. In the early period at the balls, the category for this particular dance was called "Performance" and/or "Pop Dip and Spin". Throughout the late 1980's and the early 1990's popularity for the category grew and the name of the category changed from "Performance/Pop Dip and Spin" to what we now call "The Oldway" or "Oldway Vogue". Of course the dance has evolved over the years from the Oldway and has given birth to a variation of how the dance is done such as New Way and Vogue Femme/Dramatics. This is just SOME of the info that I’ve learned from old school cats in my time of being in the ballroom scene. Now it is also said that it started in the prisons on Riker’s Island in the 70’s. Where bored prisoners began having these "pose offs" taken from their favorite models in magazines as entertainment. It eventually got out into the streets of Harlem and went underground into the balls.
World of Dance New York 2012: Johnii Ninja
What about House of Ninja? Can you provide some background on this group, and how you got involved? I’ll start with this tid bit just to help you all understand what a house is. A house usually consists of (but not limited to) members of the LGBT community, often comprised of individuals who have gone through rejection from family due to their sexuality or simply those in search of guidance or belonging. Houses are usually spearheaded by a house mother or father and the kids of the house sometimes carry the last name of the founder (For the House of Ninja this would be Willie Ninja). Most houses compete against each other at balls. Different houses have different criteria for membership and often house members will refer to each other as mother, father, sister or brother. Not saying that everyone that is a part of a house has to have gone through those circumstances but it was a very common thing back in the 70’s and 80’s. Sometimes, people are brought in because of the potential that a current member sees in another which is pretty much what happened with me. Now for the HoN, it isn’t just about being within the Ballroom scene; that’s not what Willie created it for. If you had a specific talent and needed the space to let that light shine, Willie gave you that passage and space to showcase it. The opportunity for me to be a part of this family was through my brother Future Ninja. Back in March of 2012 we taught a workshop together and afterwards, let’s just say we had a very, very long conversation and he asked how I felt about being Ninja. Naturally I screamed like a school girl on the inside because I felt like that was the house that I belonged to. Now it was a bit of a process because at the time I had already belonged to a House but it honestly didn’t feel right for me so I was in the process of leaving but I didn’t want there to be any bad blood and neither did Future. Needless to say I left my previous house telling them how I really felt the best way that I could and a few months later traveled to NYC and battled at a function for Benny Ninja’s birthday that was hosted by Javier. I’m guessing the same potential that Future saw, Benny and Javier saw because a few moments after all of the battling was done I feel a tap on my shoulder and I turn around and it’s Javi saying “You’re Ninja”. And thus, Johnii Ninja was born.
People tend to use the terms Vogue and Waacking together a lot. Are they interchanged when dancing? Just from the same cultural background? Why do they usually end up in the same sentence? Well Vogue and Waacking, contrary to some people’s beliefs are two very different styles of dance even though they originated around the same time. They came from two different places and as one gets familiar with the dances you start to see just how different they are. Vogue is more of a stern, straight forward type of dance. The dance is done generally to house music because of the deep repetitive beat. It’s that beat that gives Vogue its life and the dancer’s the pattern to follow and flow through. Waacking is primarily done to disco as it was created during the Soul Train era. Waacking deals a lot with embodying various personalities and is a lot more animated; almost like acting. It doesn’t follow the same pattern or beat. If you listen to disco, most of the time you have a lot of strings and instruments that never repeat the same sequences. It’s always something new. The dance is very theatrical. In my personal opinion I feel like the dances are usually paired together because they’re both very flamboyant in their own right and are a huge part of the LGBT community and sometimes people like to box certain things in just because they share similarities.
Johnii Ninja @ S.L.A.M presents: The Chase
You and I have had a few discussions already on Liquid and Digits. At one point you shared this awesome video of a hand dance performance battle. Can you discuss this video and little bit and explain what they are doing? This here is one of the many categories that you would see at a ball. Basically what you would have to do is tell a story with your hands on beat. If you miss a beat or if you’re just flailing your hands around at random, the greater chances of you losing. So all in all it’s the person who paints a better picture and has the right musicality that usually takes the win.
Javier & Jedi Ninja Hand performance battle
[ EDITORS NOTE ] For Liquid and Digits practitioners out there, I want to suggest you explore some of the similarities in what we call flow and what you see in vogue. Look for the Figure 8 foundation, the connection between how hands move and transition.
If you slow down some of the movements, it’s almost as if you can begin to make out various fluid like movements. As we continually look for influences and origins of our styles, it’s worth noting (as House Dance legend, Brian Green, had once referred us to Vogue in the past) that Vogue, could quite possibly be considered an unintentional influence on Liquid. Especially considering these two cultures had high probabilities of crossing paths within the club culture, most predominately in NYC.
JT: Well I can say that I believe with every bone in my body that these dances have crossed paths at one time or another and have possibly borrowed from one another. Aside from hearing stories about how the older gen of Voguers used to head out and share the same dance floors with dancers of a completely different style and just having exchanges with one another you are bound to have something of one world transfer to another and vice versa.
What is your favorite video on youtube of another Voguer? LOL hands down my brother Javi’s Hand Performance vid at the Latex Ball. It’s like 7 years old but it always gives me chills.
Are there any last parting words you would like to say to your readers? Thanks for taking the time out to read I really appreciate it from the heart. And also if you’re deeply passionate about something and it can be anything, don’t be afraid to pursue it and grow with it and just never hold it back from being who YOU are.