EW chats with ''Paris Is Burning''s Willi Ninja. Looking back at Madonna, voguing, and living the American Dream

As the first comprehensive look into the gender-bending world of underground drag balls finally debuts on DVD, Ninja, the 44-year-old star of Paris Is Burning, tells us how the blaze began.

You were the inspiration for Madonna’s ”Vogue” video. What was she like?
She treated me very well. We hung at a club called the Boy in Paris. We had a blast.

Voguing was huge back then. What about now?
Are you kidding? It’s bigger than ever.

Director Jennie Livingston has said ball contestants are seeking the American dream.
I totally agree. We’re trying to step out of the gutter and have…a better life, better chance for education, better job.

Since you started EON Model Management, do you still dance?
As little as possible. I teach models [like Paris Hilton] and judge the major model competitions. Baaaaby, at my age it takes a whole lot to recover.