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Parris Goebel is so much more than just a choreographer


TextJessica Heron-Langton

The creative who has worked with Rihanna on Savage x Fenty, Dior, and Justin Bieber, is still passionate for more

Parris Goebel doesn’t want to be called a choreographer. “I get quite sensitive when people put me in a box,” she explains. “I’m so much more than just a dancer or a choreographer… I am an artist. I am a free spirit. I am a creative. I am a muse. I didn’t choose this life, I was born this way.”

If you’re feeling somewhat inspired or empowered by Goebel right now, well, that’s the point. Having dropped out of school at 15, getting booked to choreograph J.Lo’s world tour at 19, and working with the likes of Dior and Justin Bieber, now, at 29-years-old, the New Zealand native has just finished her most recent gig with Rihanna (a little show called Savage x Fenty vol. 2, don’t know if you’ve heard of it). 

But, despite having achieved such notable success at such an early age, there is still an insatiable passion that drives Goebel, an energy which oozes out when she speaks. “If I didn’t create or express my soul in the way I do every day, my soul would probably die,” she says. “I feel like I’m living my purpose.”

Growing up in Auckland, and taking inspiration from the likes of Missy Elliott and Prince, Goebel taught herself how to dance by “obsessing over and mimicking music videos”. Now, she is creating dances which are aimed to make people feel good, uniting us all through a “universal language of love and joy.” 

Here, we talk with the renowned creative about appreciating your own beauty, breaking down false narratives, and what it’s like working with Rihanna.  

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up? How has your background shaped who you are as a person?

Parris Goebel: I was born and raised in Auckland, New Zealand. I’m a proud Samoan woman and my family is my everything. I knew at a young age that I wanted to perform and create. I’ve always been a free spirit with big dreams. I dropped out of school at 15, and through the power of the internet, I was booked by J.Lo to choreograph her world tour at 19-years-old. From there, the doors started to open and I kept pursuing my dreams.

Do you remember the first time you were conscious of your appearance?

Parris Goebel: I was insecure about my looks all through my childhood, especially throughout my high school years. I was the only brown girl at my school and was bullied for having different features. I generally always felt like an outcast and it took me years to love myself. I’ve come such a long way with unpacking those insecurities and appreciating the beautiful woman I have grown to be. 

Growing up, what TV shows, models, artists, magazines, designers etc informed your understanding of beauty and identity and the way you presented yourself visually?

Parris Goebel: I loved Missy Elliott growing up. I was obsessed with her music, her visuals, and was in awe of her overall style. She went against the grain in everything she did and I felt that was the first time I deeply resonated with an artist. She showed me that you didn’t have to conform or fit the status quo to be successful. She shifted my whole perspective and gave me the confidence to be unapologetically me. I also loved Prince, he’s one of my favourite artists of all time. He was special and bold in his art. He used every outlet to express himself from music to fashion to art, and that’s what I try to do in my craft. I’m constantly finding new ways to express my soul and I want other people to feel that.

“I’m constantly finding new ways to express my soul and I want other people to feel that” – Parris Goebel

Why are you a dancer and choreographer? What made you want to become one? 

Parris Goebel: I’m so much more than just a dancer or choreographer, and I get quite sensitive when people put me into a box. I am an artist. I am a free spirit. I am a creative. I am a muse. I didn’t choose this life, I was born this way. If I didn’t create or express my soul in the way I do every day, my soul would probably die. I’m extremely grateful to be able to do what I do and I feel like I’m living my purpose. 

How did you actually get into it? Where did you hone your craft? Is it something you learnt or is it more instinctual?

Parris Goebel: I didn’t have many resources in New Zealand so I would obsess over music videos and try and mimic them. Then movies like Save The Last Dance and You Got Served came out and changed my life. I just knew that I was going to be a part of that world one day. I didn’t really have a mentor, I mostly taught myself by watching videos and dancing in my room every day. When you’re born with a gift, it’s your destiny and there will always be a feeling that pulls you towards sharing it with other people.

Can you tell us a bit about your creative process from the initial idea to final performance?

Parris Goebel: It really depends on the project, but most of the time as soon as I hear the music, I’m able to see things. It could be movement, colours, or a story playing out in my mind. When it comes to choreography, I just push play and let my body freely move. It’s always a spontaneous and magical experience. I then build off of my base idea and add dancers to the overall vision. 

Is beauty something you try to capture in your work or something that you reject? What is your relationship to ‘beauty’ (whatever that word means to you)?

Parris Goebel: There is beauty in everything and everyone. 

How do you feel when you are dancing? Can you describe the emotions and sensations?

Parris Goebel: Immortal. Free. On fire. Floating. Falling. Electric. 

You’ve worked on so many iconic performances, videos, shows etc. What are the projects that you’re most proud of? Or that stand out to you the most. 

Parris Goebel: I would have to say Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty shows have been the highlight of my career. I truly feel like the shows have inspired people all over the world to not only be themselves but to love themselves. That’s what matters most to me – if I can help set others free of judgement, insecurities and the pressures of the world... then I’m doing my job. 

How did you first become involved with Savage x Fenty?

Parris Goebel: I have been working closely with Rihanna for about five years now. She’s my sis, we always link up to create some magic. This is my third Savage x Fenty show, and I feel like every show has been so powerful.  

The Savage x Fenty shows are such a celebration of diversity, bodies, beauty of every kind. What does it mean to you to work with a brand that prioritises diversity in the way Fenty does? 

Parris Goebel: It’s needed and it’s about time! For too long the world has been programmed to think beauty looks a certain way and that has left too many of us feeling unworthy and insecure. The more we can show real representation and diversity on influential platforms, the more we can break down false narratives and stereotypes.

The Savage x Fenty vol 2 show really felt like a moment of much-needed joy at a time when things are looking quite bleak for many people. What was your aim going into the show this season? Were you factoring in the context that you were creating in?

Parris Goebel: We wanted to bring people inspiration and joy. It has been a tough year for all of us and it was so important that the show uplifted the world and gave everyone that extra push to keep being happy and keep shining. That’s what I love about dance, it’s a universal language of love and joy. I’m so happy we could give everyone something to look forward to.

“That’s what I love about dance, it’s a universal language of love and joy. I’m so happy we could give everyone something to look forward to” – Parris Goebel

The fashion and beauty industries still have a long way to go with inclusivity. What steps need to be made? How can the industries do better? 

Parris Goebel: I believe it starts at the top. Having a diverse board that cares about culture and change. Too many times I have worked with brands or teams that just don’t get it. We need more understanding leaders that are passionate about showcasing different kinds of people in our world.

What advice would you give to young dancers hoping to get into the industry?

Parris Goebel: Be the hardest worker in the room. 

What are you currently working on?

Parris Goebel: I’m about to release my own clothing line, RUNAWAY MOTEL, which I’m super excited about. I’m also currently working on my debut feature film with Sony, and just about to start rehearsals for the AMA’s!

How do you think our understanding of beauty has shifted with the evolution of technology?

Parris Goebel: It depends on how you use technology. For example, you can use Instagram to showcase your beauty or you can use it to chase beauty. The world of social media has created an impossible idea of perfection, but I think once you understand that life isn’t about being perfect, it’s about being YOU, then you stop looking for validation and start expressing yourself instead. 

What is the future of beauty?

Parris Goebel: We are the future of beauty.

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