The first Savage x Fenty Show blew us away with inspirational energy and fierceness. Every movement felt so organic and all the dancers were completely in sync. The choreographer behind those moves? Parris Goebel.
Now, she is one of the most acclaimed choreographers and her name is all over the dance industry. This Polynesian woman who grew up in New Zealand didn’t have it easy being so far away from the main studios, dance teachers and choreographers. But Goebel dropped out of school at age 15 to pursue dancing and already had her first big gig at 19 after being booked by Jennifer Lopez for her world tour. JLO discovered her talent through a YouTube video and from there, her credits and accomplishments haven't stopped. To list a few: she opened up The Dance Palace Studio in her hometown and founded the Royal Family dance crew, launched her own activewear label, is the face of the new Nike x Dance Own The Floor campaign, she headed choreography for Jennifer Lopez’s 2020 Super Bowl praised halftime performance and Justin Bieber’s Sorry music video. There’s no doubt that hard work and consistency is what brought her to the top of the game.

The previously anticipated Victoria’s Secret annual fashion show was easily knocked off its top spot when Rihanna brought her essence to the lingerie runways. Parris says of the project “It is essential we see ourselves on the TV screen. We cast people that look like us, our friends, our sisters, our neighbours. Representation is everything and we take our influence and platform very seriously. It is our duty to celebrate everyone because everyone is beautiful”. Savage x Fenty came up with the perfect formula to fight against the preconceived idea of what beautiful and sexy is, leaving VS as outdated. Fenty has had a huge impact on the fashion industry, setting a precedent for diverse inclusive casting and teams.

But these shows are not all that Parris Goebel is recognised for. For me, her most determining trait is foregrounding dancers in entertainment, moving dancers from the background to the spotlight. We talk to Parris Goebel about her career and the mindset of a girl boss.
First of all, it’s a pleasure being able to interview you, I really admire you and your work. I believe that because of artists like you, dancers are finally starting to get the recognition they deserve. That being said, let’s start with your first steps. You’ve previously mentioned that when you were young you weren’t the best in your dance class but you were the one who had that hunger. It was hard work and determination that brought you here. What do you think people found in your movement that they didn’t see in others?
I think people connected to my fresh approach to dance and authenticity. Growing up in New Zealand, I almost had little knowledge of what was cool so I kind of just did my own thing and did what I thought was cool. I feel the world gravitates to individuals that think and move outside the box and I was lucky enough to be doing that at the right time when YouTube came about. The stars truly aligned.
What is your creative process when choreographing? How do you truly know what the artist or celebrity you are working for is capable of doing and if they will feel comfortable?
The two most important things to me are the vision and the music. Once I understand what the artist wants to say and how they want people to feel, then I can bring that to life. The music really is the connecting thread between myself and the artist. I let the music speak to me and inspire my movement then I translate that onto the artist in a way that feels true to their voice. It’s all about chemistry and synergy.
Jennifer Lopez discovered you because she came across one of your YouTube videos and she offered you your first big job on the international scene at the age of 20. What was it like moving out of your hometown to work for such a well-known artist, all at such a young age?
I didn’t officially move to LA til a few years back. Up until then I was travelling back and forth from New Zeland to LA and doing a lot of my work from NZ. But working for JLO as my first big gig was incredible. I remember getting that call and bursting into tears. It was like all my hard work and late nights in the studio had finally payed off and the opportunity that I was praying for came true. She taught me so much and to this day I remember every bit of wisdom and insight that she has shared and shown me.
I found out about your work after watching the first Savage x Fenty Show. I was completely mesmerised by the power and sexiness of the choreography had to look up who was in charge of that masterpiece. What was it like working with such a star and businesswoman like the one and only Rihanna?
Rih is the best. She is one of us, truly grounded, passionate and understands how to create for women that just want to fearlessly be themselves. She just gets it. I love how collaborative she is and it’s always so effortless and fun working with her.
And one of the things I found most comforting was that, after being used to watching fashion shows like Victoria’s Secret where the beauty standards were unrealistic, we all got to see a representation of what we can see in the streets: all sizes, shapes and cultural backgrounds. Now having released the third show, we can see how big of an impact it has on the industry. Did you expect from the beginning for it to be such a game-changer?
To be honest I didn’t feel the impact of the show until I started receiving heart warming messages from women all over the world. It brought me to tears. It’s amazing how powerful and inspiring the show has been for people of all walks of life. It has given so many women a boost of self esteem and self appreciation. I’m grateful to be apart of the change the we all have been waiting to see in this industry and society.
What was the casting process like? And what were your intentions behind the selection?
It is essential we see ourselves on the TV screen. We cast people that look like us, our friends, our sisters, our neighbours. Representation is everything and we take our influence and platform very seriously. It is our duty to celebrate everyone because everyone is beautiful.
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Full look NIKE.
When you know that the dancers are going to perform in underwear, and that tons of people will later be watching the show, what’s the key to making them feel confident and attractive?
I make sure my rehearsal space is a safe space that is lead with respect and compassion for each other. It’s a delicate thing to be performing and rehearsing in underwear so I do everything in my power to empower the dancers under my care and give them the confidence to shine in their own skin.
In your creations and performances, we can see that the dancers are mostly women. You often talk about wanting more women in charge and some might even think that the dance industry is indeed dominated by women, especially in countries like Spain. What is the situation for choreographers like? And why do you usually reach out to female dancers?
As a woman I am passionate about opening doors and advocating for women. It is a part of my life’s purpose. In all of my work there is a ferocious feminine energy. I create from within so naturally, you feel my essence and all the power I feel as a bold and unapologetic woman.
You’ve recently shared that you are the face of the Nike x Dance Own The Floor campaign. How is it being acknowledged by such a big brand and giving a space for dancers and athletes?
It’s an incredible honour. I’ve always been a Nike girl so this is a dream come true for me. We still have so much work to do but I do believe it is a step in the right direction. We are working hard on lifting the conversation that yes, dancers are athletes and we deserve the respect and recognition that any other sport receives.
Even though now all we see is your success, you didn’t have it easy. You struggled to fit in and were full of insecurities. Only those who have seen this world from the inside know how challenging dance is physically and mentally. Now, your confidence is one of your trademarks. How was the process of overcoming these obstacles? And how do you see the dance scene changing in terms of representation?
For me, I almost feel funny that confidence is a trademark of mine. Why shouldn’t I be confident? It shouldn’t be shocking that a curvy polynesian girl loves herself enough to be confident. Everyone has a reason to be confident and it shouldn’t be rare. You don’t have to be what society thinks is perfect in order to loudly love yourself. At some point you get tired of the pressures of the world and you choose to love you for you and that is exactly what I’ve done. If that inspires others to do the same then that is beautiful.
So many people still have inaccurate preconceptions and think that you can’t make a living out of dance and you’ve definitely proved them wrong. What advice would you give to those wanting to pursue an artistic or creative career?
I would say in this day and age you can truly create your own path. There is no rule book and whatever you’ve been told on how to be successful - throw it away. Just work your butt off, stay true to the voice within and never give up. Eventually, the door will open.
You have accomplished so much but you are always looking for more, what’s still on your bucket list? Are there any projects we’ll be able to see soon?
I’m excited to be directing my debut feature film and TV series next year. I’m ready to bring dance to the big screen in a way no one has done before. I’m going to change the game.
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Full look NIKE.