How Parris Goebel Became Dance Royalty
Don't be fooled by the sound of Parris Goebel's voice. The 25-year-old choreographer and dancer from Auckland, New Zealand, speaks in sweet, soft tones, her demeanor almost demure. But listen carefully to her words and you'll realize that Goebel, who recently relocated to L.A., fully embodies the take-no-prisoners attitude that makes her larger than life on-screen. From her effortless cool in Justin Bieber's "Sorry" video to her explosive performances with the Royal Family and ReQuest crews, Goebel goes full-out in everything she does—and says.
"I always speak my mind," Goebel says, softly but firmly. "That's a big thing for me. In dance, the person you are is a part of your product—your personality, what you wear. You can't just be you half the time. You have to be you morning until night. It's not something you switch on; it's a lifestyle, a mindset. Take it or leave it." That unabashed self-assurance is one of the reasons everyone from Bieber to J. Lo to Cirque du Soleil wants Goebel on their team. Here's how she solidified her spot as one of the hottest choreographers in the business.
(Photo by Joe Toreno)
Growing Up Goebel
Goebel may be a relatively new face on the U.S. dance scene, but she's been in the industry her entire life. The youngest of four kids, Goebel attributes much of her born-to-entertain personality to her parents and siblings. "My family was fun, outgoing and loving," she says. "I was always free to express myself, and my parents noticed how much I loved to dance at a very young age."
By the time she was 8 years old, Goebel was enrolled in tap, jazz and ballet, but something wasn't right. "I didn't like anyone forcing me to move a specific way," she says. "I just wanted to move the way I wanted to move." So at 10—after being inspired by Missy Elliott, Michael Jackson, Usher and Beyoncé videos—Goebel enrolled in a hip-hop class. Immediately, she was hooked. "I loved the sounds, the lightness, the music and the freedom of it," she says. "There was no right or wrong. I knew I'd found my calling."
Life outside the studio wasn't easy for Goebel, though. Half Polynesian and half European, she was "the only brown girl" in an academic school populated almost entirely by Caucasians, and was bullied for looking different. "I was the only one with darker skin, a rounder nose and different features, and I was picked on for that," Goebel says. "I looked like a Poly girl, and I didn't fit in." At 15, she dropped out to pursue dance full-time.
(Photo by Joe Toreno)
Building the Empire—and The Palace
After leaving school, Goebel was unsure of her next move. "I wanted to join a company, but there were only two near me," she says. "One was an all-boy crew, and the other one wasn't very good. I had two options: Join something that wasn't up to my personal standards, or do my own thing." Goebel went the do-my-own-thing route, in spite of her initial concerns. "I asked my dad, 'Who's going to choreograph?' He said, 'You!' I said, 'Who will mix the music?' He said, 'You can.' So I got my friends together to train in my auntie's garage." And that's how ReQuest was born.
Goebel's father, Brett (who's also her manager), realized the group needed an actual studio to rehearse in. In 2009, he founded The Palace Dance Studio in Auckland. "We wanted a space that would allow Parris to be creative 24 hours a day," he says. "We called it 'The Palace' because our mantra is 'Crowns up.' It's all about self-empowerment and making sure our students believe in themselves." Today, The Palace is home to six crews—including ReQuest and the Royal Family—and has regular studio classes for all ages and abilities, which Goebel frequently leads herself. (Now that she's based in L.A., she live-streams in.)
(Photo by Joe Toreno)
Goebel's initial goal for ReQuest was just to have fun with friends. But after a year together, the all-girl group started competing annually at Hip Hop International. "It was an opportunity for a bunch of girls from New Zealand to be seen by people all over the world," Goebel says. "We got to showcase what we had to offer and what makes us unique." The crew's first performance earned them a standing ovation. Before long, they were getting gold medals at the World Hip Hop Dance Championships—and attention from some very high-profile performers.
(Photo by Joe Toreno)
The Life-Changing Calls
Goebel's first big break came in 2012, when Jennifer Lopez's team, impressed by one of her clips on YouTube, called to ask if Goebel would choreograph something similar for Lopez's Dance Again world tour. Goebel, who was only 20 at the time, said yes. "After that, it was so surreal: Artist after artist kept calling," Goebel says. She quickly booked jobs with Nicki Minaj, Janet Jackson and Rihanna, in addition to competing with ReQuest on "America's Best Dance Crew" in 2012. Then came the call of all calls: Justin Bieber's manager asked her to choreograph every video for Bieber's Purpose: The Movement album. Goebel was given a small budget and three weeks to make it all happen. "I pretty much got to do whatever I wanted," she says. "They gave me a timeline and told me to just go for it."
Goebel's first step was to immerse herself in the music. "When I create, I try to just let the music inspire me," she says. "I listened to the songs on repeat and tried to let my imagination run wild." As she solidified her concept for each video, Goebel reached out to the friends she thought would be perfect for each one.
In the end, Goebel brought in more than 60 dancers to create the 13 videos—including the ReQuest dancers she used for the "Sorry" video, which now boasts more than 2 billion YouTube views. "I remember Parris calling us into the studio and saying, 'We're gonna do something, but it's confidential,' " says Althea Strydom, a longtime ReQuest dancer. (You know her as the "Bulls-jersey girl" from the "Sorry" video.) "She said it was for Justin Bieber, and we all lost our minds. The whole process was so fun—it always just felt like I was hanging out with my friends in the studio."
Challenging as the huge Bieber project was, Goebel always kept her cool. "If she's stressing out, she'll never show it on the outside," Strydom says. "She always seems to have everything in control, and she makes her dancers feel confident and comfortable." In fact, Goebel has a stellar reputation throughout the industry for her professionalism and work ethic. "She always wants to get it right, and asks all the right questions," says Napoleon D'umo, who first met Goebel at a Monsters of Hip Hop convention. "And her own performance quality is just beyond—when she dances, the entire room lights up. She has this glow, this aura."
On Fame, Fortune and Freedom
A different artist at Goebel's level might have let the fame go to her head. But Goebel has been largely unaffected by her high-profile status. "From day one, I've always put in the same amount of work," Goebel says. "When you're working hard, you have no time to be big-headed. The only thing that's changed is the number of people who know my name. Yes, it's all cool, but I'm still me, working my butt off. That's what keeps me grounded."
(Story continues below)
To Brett, Parris is "a unicorn that was dropped off on the front porch"—because she's completely, utterly true to herself. "She wears what she wants to wear, listens to what she wants to listen to and says what she wants to say. She won't take a job that doesn't sit right with her, and if she turns it down, the artists usually come back stronger to get her," Brett says. "People always ask what her secret to success is. It's no secret: Work hard, then work hard again."
A version of this story appeared in the May/June 2017 issue of Dance Spirit.
Some might say Charlize Glass' fame kicked off with a single three-letter word. In 2014, Beyoncé shared a video of the then–12-year-old dancer performing to "Yoncé" on Instagram, along with a simple caption: "WOW!"
But by that point, the hip-hop mini had already performed at the MTV Video Music Awards and on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," and won first runner-up with her crew, 8 Flavahz, on "America's Best Dance Crew." And her Queen Bey Insta shout-out wasn't even the pinnacle of her tween career: She earned a spot on The PULSE On Tour as an Elite Protégé for the 2014–2015 season, and performed with Missy Elliott at the Super Bowl XLIX Halftime Show in 2015.
These days, the 16-year-old spends her time touring the country as Brian Friedman's assistant at Radix Dance Convention and blowing up YouTube and Instagram with her class-video cameos. And while the Char Char we fell in love with was a hip-hop cutie pie, the more mature artist we see today is sure to rock the dance world for years to come.
For some it's a holiday tradition, for others its an iconic spectacle, but no matter the reason, more than 1 million people will watch the Rockettes perform in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular each year. And though the production has been around since 1933, much of what goes on behind those velvety curtains and intricate sets remains a mystery. To curb our curiosity and find out what ensues when these leggy ladies aren't doling out their sky-high kicks, we got a backstage tour from the legends themselves.
From hair and makeup, to warm-up exercises, and costume quick changes (the fastest quick change in the show is a #mindblowing 75 seconds, by the way) we got a glimpse into the glamorous (and sometimes not so glamorous) world of the Rockettes.
In the summer of 2006, Heidi Groskreutz and Travis Wall performed a showstopping Mia Michaels routine on “So You Think You Can Dance" Season 2, a piece now remembered simply as “The Bench Dance." It was arguably the first time this particular dance style had been shown on live TV—a style both graceful and quirky, driven by storytelling and deeply felt emotion.
It was, in other words, the mainstream world's introduction to contemporary. And it earned “SYTYCD" one of its first Outstanding Choreography Emmy Awards.
Contemporary dance has come a long way (baby). While the style has been around for decades, as of late it seems to be everywhere. Today you can see contemporary choreography on concert stages (Shaping Sound's tour has been a massive hit), on TV (it's the favored style on “SYT" and pops up regularly on “Dancing with the Stars"), in films (remember Kathryn McCormick's character in Step Up Revolution?), in music videos (including Sia's viral films starring Maddie Ziegler) and even on Broadway (Michaels took her talents to the Great White Way for Finding Neverland).
The possibilities for contemporary dance seem to be endless. But how should the style keep evolving, and what has it outgrown? To find out, we talked to some of the contemporary world's most influential names.
Today, 20-year-old choreographer Emma Bradley spends her days touring with the dance convention NRG Dance Project, making work for students across the U.S. and Australia. But her first choreographic ventures were far more personal: During her junior and senior years of high school, Bradley started creating her own solos for dance competitions. “Making work on my body totally influenced the way I think about and process choreography," she says. “And it set me on a different artistic path than I imagined."
These days, more and more dancers are testing out self-choreographed solos at competitions. It can be risky—you could be going up against seasoned choreographers like Travis Wall—but the potential rewards make it worth taking the chance. “Choreographing your own solo is an invaluable learning experience," says Andrew Winghart, a judge and choreographer for JUMP Dance Convention. “It forces you to look outside of yourself as a dancer, to really analyze your facility and how you can look your best." Tempted to try your hand at self-choreography? Read on to find out more about taking creative control.
As a tap dancer, you're a student of history—whether you know it or not. Tap technique today is intimately connected to the great hoofers of the past. "Tap is incredibly personal, because all of these individuals have added to the public domain, the pool of steps you draw from," says Brian Seibert, dance critic for The New York Times and author of What the Eye Hears: A History of Tap Dancing. "You're constantly giving shout-outs to dancers who came before you."
It's also important to recognize tap's pioneers because they repeatedly broke down barriers, making tap accessible to everyone. "You don't have to overcome something to be here," says Tony Waag, artistic executive director of the American Tap Dance Foundation. "You're not the first black person or woman, you don't have to carry a certain card or have a particular lineage to succeed at tap. Gregory Hines used to say, 'If you have the shoes, you're in.' "
Come meet the artists who've shaped tap history. Because if you're a tap dancer, they're your family, too.
What's better than a good dance joke? They're corny, they're punny, and they're exactly what you need to get you through long Nutcracker days. These 10 jokes are guaranteed to put a smile on your face—no matter how much your feet are hurting.
"So you Think You Can Dance" Season 14 finalists Lex Ishimoto and Taylor Sieve shocked fans at home (at least the ones who hadn't thoroughly scoured their respective Instagrams) during Episode 14, when choreographer Mia Michaels asked if either of them had ever experienced "the kind of love that takes your breath away." They confessed that, yup, they had—with each other. The two met at The Dance Awards in the summer of 2016, where they were each named Senior Best Dancer, and went on to tour with the convention as assistants. Before long—and long before their "SYTYCD" journey—they became a couple.
Take a look at Dance Spirit's exclusive interview where they dish on everything from their favorite dates to the dance moves that give them all the feels.
There's a surprising twist to Regina Willoughby's last season with Columbia City Ballet: It's also her 18-year-old daughter Melina's first season with the company. Regina, 40, will retire from the stage in March, just as her daughter starts her own career as a trainee. But for this one season, they're sharing the stage together.
Yes, we all know dancers are strong. But sometimes it takes a truly epic workout video to remind us JUST HOW INSANELY STRONG they actually are.
Behold, National Ballet of Canada principal Svetlana Lunkina's oh-so-casual pre-class exercise: