Cover Story

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.

Show Comments ()
Health & Body
Thinkstock

You've probably heard that protein is essential in a dancer's diet. But you might not know what protein actually does for your hardworking bod, how much you should be eating, and—gasp!—why it could actually be overrated. We asked Andrea Chernus (a registered dietitian nutritionist who advises Juilliard students and Hamilton cast members) and Nora Minno (a certified personal trainer, registered dietitian, and former pro dancer) to spill all the protein pointers they share with their dancer clients.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
@brittanytemple_ Bohemian And Barefoot Blog

From Mandy Moore to Boston Ballet, the most trusted professionals in the dance community are recommending Apolla Shocks. We decided to investigate further and learn more about the footwear company that has started a new revolution in the dance world.

The revolution begins

Apolla Shocks are everywhere right now. Your favorite dancers on "So You Think You Can Dance", on tour with "Shaping Sound", at conventions, in class, and on competition stages. These dancers are not just wearing socks. They are wearing Shocks!

What do all these dancers know that you don't? Why are they building such a strong and loyal customer base? To understand better, we asked some of the most trusted dancers, choreographers, and physical therapists in the dance community why they recommend Apolla Shocks?

Mandy Moore (award winning producer, director & choreographer)
"I wear Apolla Shocks when I am in the studio all day creating. They make my feet feel like they are on clouds! Who knew that a little sock could bring such happiness to my aching feet…"

Keep reading... Show less
Arthur Mitchell and Diana Adams in George Balanchine's Agon (courtesy Dance Magazine Archives)

Former New York City Ballet principal dancer and Dance Theatre of Harlem founder Arthur Mitchell passed away today in a Manhattan hospital. He was 84 years old.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News

The iconic New York City dance studio Steps on Broadway has a new leader coming on board: Joe Lanteri. The New York City Dance Alliance founder will be Steps' new co-owner and executive director.

"For me, it's a big full circle," says Lanteri, who used to take class at Steps when he first moved to New York City, and started teaching there in the mid-1980s. The 4:30 p.m. Tuesday/Thursday Advanced Intermediate Jazz slot he held down for many years taught a slew of young talent—including choreographers-to-be like Jessica Lang and Sergio Trujillo. "As a young teacher, Steps was a platform for me to travel the world giving master classes; it became the underlying foundation for what I'm doing now in my life."

Keep reading... Show less
Videos
Screenshot via YouTube

Kylie Shea is no stranger to showcasing her quirky take on ballet to the masses. The Instagram star continues to entertain us with her unconventional dance routines on pointe, be it on her social media platforms, in music videos, and even commercials. And her collaboration with the Canadian band MAGIC is one of our favorites yet. Dancing to their hit song "Expectations," Shea and the band's lead singer Nasri have a low key dance-off. The video starts out somewhat somber, but as things progress, Shea's sense of humor shines through—culminating with a fabulous scene that has her jiving in a tutu.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Hayden Hopkins studying in the theater before transforming into Mystère's La Belle (courtesy Mystère 'by Cirque Du Soleil)

A full-time university isn't your only option for earning a degree. Enrolling in college part-time while pursuing a pro career is a challenge well worth the rewards.

Keep reading... Show less
Trending-posts
Photo by Kate Glicksberg, courtesy NYC & Company

Are you more at home in the world of Rent, A Chorus Line, Cats, Oklahoma, or Grease? Take our quiz to find out!

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
@brittanytemple_ Bohemian And Barefoot Blog

From Mandy Moore to Boston Ballet, the most trusted professionals in the dance community are recommending Apolla Shocks. We decided to investigate further and learn more about the footwear company that has started a new revolution in the dance world.

The revolution begins

Apolla Shocks are everywhere right now. Your favorite dancers on "So You Think You Can Dance", on tour with "Shaping Sound", at conventions, in class, and on competition stages. These dancers are not just wearing socks. They are wearing Shocks!

What do all these dancers know that you don't? Why are they building such a strong and loyal customer base? To understand better, we asked some of the most trusted dancers, choreographers, and physical therapists in the dance community why they recommend Apolla Shocks?

Mandy Moore (award winning producer, director & choreographer)
"I wear Apolla Shocks when I am in the studio all day creating. They make my feet feel like they are on clouds! Who knew that a little sock could bring such happiness to my aching feet…"

Keep reading... Show less
Videos
Screenshot via YouTube

Kylie Shea is no stranger to showcasing her quirky take on ballet to the masses. The Instagram star continues to entertain us with her unconventional dance routines on pointe, be it on her social media platforms, in music videos, and even commercials. And her collaboration with the Canadian band MAGIC is one of our favorites yet. Dancing to their hit song "Expectations," Shea and the band's lead singer Nasri have a low key dance-off. The video starts out somewhat somber, but as things progress, Shea's sense of humor shines through—culminating with a fabulous scene that has her jiving in a tutu.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Thinkstock

You've probably heard that protein is essential in a dancer's diet. But you might not know what protein actually does for your hardworking bod, how much you should be eating, and—gasp!—why it could actually be overrated. We asked Andrea Chernus (a registered dietitian nutritionist who advises Juilliard students and Hamilton cast members) and Nora Minno (a certified personal trainer, registered dietitian, and former pro dancer) to spill all the protein pointers they share with their dancer clients.

Keep reading... Show less
Cover Story
Class at the University of Southern California Glorya Kaufman School of Dance (photo by Ema Peter, courtesy USC)

If you closed your eyes and pictured dance paradise, what would it look like? Maybe you'd start your morning in rehearsal with a renowned contemporary choreographer, and then work on a dance driven by computer programming, and then run to a music video audition, and end the day discussing the impact of African dance styles on American pop culture.

Guess what? That dance paradise isn't just a dream. It's the University of Southern California Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, a young program that's already attracting some of the most talented dancers around—for good reason.

Click here to meet Alyssa Allen, Simrin Player, and Jake Tribus, three of USC's standout students.

Keep reading... Show less
How To
Shannon Mather's Body Love being performed at competition (photo by Art Lee, courtesy Shannon Mather)

When Shannon Mather choreographed Body Love on a group of dancers from her Mather Dance Company, a video of the work was so popular that it ended up going viral, garnering over a million views on YouTube. Set to a spoken-word poem by Mary Lambert on themes of body image, unhealthy beauty standards, and self-confidence, the piece resonated not only with competition judges (who placed the piece in the top three at Hall of Fame Dance Challenge), but also with the teenage dancers in the cast. "It spoke a lot to girls," Mather says. "I got so many messages."

Dancing to spoken word can be incredibly powerful, and help you stand out in a competition. But it comes with its own set of challenges, especially if you're used to having music backing you up. Here's what you need to know if you're thinking about tackling a spoken-word piece.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
It includes a peek at a chimney-sweep number that's giving us ALL KINDS of Newsies vibes. (Walt Disney Studios)

What could be more super(califragilisticexpialidocious) than a Mary Poppins sequel? How about a Mary Poppins sequel helmed by fabulous director/choreographer Rob Marshall and starring the likes of Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda?

Yup, Mary Poppins Returns is happening, friends! In fact, there's now a trailer out for the much-anticipated follow-up to the Disney classic, set to hit theaters December 18th. And from a dance perspective, the new film looks practically perfect in every way.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for Fun
Yes, the "workshop" ballet was just as life-changing as I'd been told it would be.

I have a confession. Until today, I had never seen the seminal classic Center Stage.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Ellenore Scott posing in shoes from the latest Marc Fisher fashion campaign that she choreographed (courtesy Marc Fisher LTD)

It's the most wonderful time of year for fashion and fierce fall fashion/dance collabs are all over the place. But we had to pick our jaws up off of the floor after watching the new dancetastic Marc Fisher LTD footwear commercials. The shoe brand created one of the most compelling ads we've seen thanks to the fancy footwork of six dancers and the choreography of "So You Think You Can Dance" alum Ellenore Scott. We talked with the multi-talented artist to find out how choreographing for a fashion commercial compares to creating routines for live shows on Broadway, like King Kong (which opens Nov. 8th). Check out our interview where Scott shares tips on what you can do to also become a choreographer in the biz one day.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

Longer ballet skirts are having a major moment. We've seen them popping up in the Instagram studio clips of dance fashionistas around the world—from American Ballet Theatre's Isabella Boylston to The Royal Ballet's Beatriz Stix-Brunell to Berlin State Ballet's Iana Salenko. And with cooler weather on the way, we have a feeling we'll be seeing even more calf-length skirts.

Beyond being trendy, long ballet skirts give any studio ensemble a sophisticated prima ballerina vibe (hi, Natalia Makarova). Try out one of these long skirt options.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Video

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored

Giveaways