Who is slim ninja and why does he matter?

Photography Greg Vaughan

Photography Greg Vaughan


By. Megan Curet

Friday afternoon, the buzzing rush our races outside our coffee shop window and Jason Rodriguez also known as Slim Ninja settles down to a chai soy latte with me.  Slim who runs from filming on set to teaching weekly classes at Gibney dance also manages an hour to catch up on what is happening.  As we dive into the heavy politics of the ballroom dance scene we also touch base of being a native New Yorker, an artist of color and of course a Latino. 


We at TiLLT celebrate Slim because he is everything we are; he embodies the boy next door and the talent of a showstopper.  Whether he is driving us nuts with his latest role on the FX’s POSE as Lemar or pushing you to your lowest in class dip, Slim is and will be for some time to come a major player on the NYC dance scene.


As passionate as he is about where he comes from he is also adamant about reconstructing the underground club scene, creating safe spaces of queers of color and reminding all others who are stopping by, that you are first a guest in the space.  A refreshing conversation revolving around all others, Slim Ninja made certain to discuss where vogue dance has taken him and how gaming and Washington Heights will forever be a part of him.


It was refreshing to talk dance with one of our own and we at TiLLT have no doubt that you will love him on screen, off screen and weekly in studio.  So catch him at Gibney while you can.


TiLLT: How did your journey of being a being a vogue dancer bring you to POSE?


SN: I feel like being an artist of a hustle…you create your opportunity for as much as you hustled. As much work as we input is what we get out of it.  So I was forwarded an email from a director as Ballet Hispanico. They were looking for a casting for a dancer that vogues. 


TiLLT: So would you say this experience went fast?


SN: Well it was definitely a slow to fast experience.  And then I went to the casting and spoke lines, which I had never done before, and then they asked me to vogue, which I obviously felt comfortable doing.  And then I left and didn’t hear anything until the phone I got asking me to be the Lamar character for POSE.


TiLLT: So moving forward just a bit?  Without placing too much emphasis on this but trying to understand what is coming next, are you no longer with the House of Ninja?


SN: No, so that’s beautiful, but just to do a quick summary and clarification. I no longer want to be affiliated with the New York City chapter because we are trying to repair it and what the chapter has come to be.  I see it as what the primary vision for this house was.  Which was Willi cultivating this particular style of vogue and I feel like he wanted his children to propel their careers.  So of course in the ballroom there is a culture and we are cultivated by it but after what do you do with it? So I feel like members who have this thought process have been diminished a bit because of hierarchy which shouldn’t exist in a house because a house is a family form and unit that is connected and has a relationship.  And it was not until I started working at POSE where I realized the New York City chapter does not have that. So I do want to try and amend things and put House of Ninja back where it is supposed to be.


TiLLT: Will you make these changes using your own new name or a new chapter?


SN: I feel like right now we are going in two routes.  We either branch out create our own identity of Ninja or we are trying to re-invent what has already occurred.  Meaning not having a leadership that doesn’t have a democracy or more so having individuals.


TiLLT: So are you still open to the world of dance in other ways? Would you still like to try other styles and such?


SN: Yes, absolutely I would still love to join a dance company and touch on that portion of my art. But I am just figuring out how that would work. And how that would fit.


TiLLT: So who have been some of your mentors or dance inspirers?


SN: My ballet mentor has definitely been Dorit Koppel at Broadway Dance Center, Kevin Wynn from Purchase College, and Tamisha Guy I will say. She was always up late with me helping me work on my technique. Oh and of course Benny Ninja.


TiLLT: So how has vogue dance shifted your aesthetic as a dance artist?


SN: You know I was a video game nerd, only child and did not have a creative outlet. I feel like it has allowed me to exert my anxiety through a different creative thought process of where you are an empowered being. You are decorative rather than the movement decorating you. Just thinking that you are here creating these poses as elegant and beautiful as possible and then referring back to a time.  A time where people were utilizing this process just to be able to breathe and live and feeling like they had a reason to exist.  And it went from being technical to thinking this movement has a reason. So in all vogue dancing has empowered me.