How Parris Goebel & Her Sisters Are Uniting Girls Across Auckland

Sarah Downs meets Parris and Kendal Goebel, two-thirds of Sisters United, an organisation making waves for young women

Parris (left) and Kendal Goebel outside their dance studio in Penrose. Photo / Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

Kendal and Parris Goebel can’t stop fidgeting. They want the slogans “brown and beautiful” and “sisters club” emblazoned on their T-shirts perfect for the photo. “Hold on, wait!” says Parris, bolting across the room and returning with a black puffer. “We have to be matching,” she explains.

The sisters are at Palace Dance Studios in Penrose, which was set up by Parris — award-winning choreographer, dancer, director and singer — at age 17. It’s quiet this early, but soon the Beyonce will crank, and not only those chasing hip-hop dreams will hit the dance floor.

READ: I Want Your Job: Dancer Parris Goebel

Between the sister act, which also includes Narelle, currently in Sydney, they run creative workshops for young Maori and Pacific women, designed to address issues like bullying, low-self esteem and body image. The organisation, Sisters United, was launched in January last year after seeing the positive effects of dance at the Palace.

“It’s contagious when you’re around people who are creative — you become more open to being yourself. When the song comes on, they’re like this is my jam,” says Parris.

The workshops include dance, spoken word, and photography, and cater for more than 200 girls aged 11 to 18 in schools throughout Auckland in a 10-week course or three-year mentoring programme. Kendal is with the girls every day and says the results have been overwhelmingly positive, including an increase in school attendance.

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“We don’t have a criteria and I think that’s what’s cool about us. The girls are so different and at the end, they all have each other’s back. That’s what we had as sisters and girls go through much worse than we did without any support these days,” she says.

The sisterhood was celebrated in July with photo exhibition Brown and Beautiful, which displayed colourful portraits of their students on billboards around Auckland, and each participant shared their thoughts on self-love and body confidence.

Long-term, they hope to go country-wide with the programme but not until they’re in every Auckland school, says Kendal. They’re expanding their reach with a two-day conference of talks and workshops planned for next April, inspired by the Teen Vogue Summit they both attended in LA last December.

READ: The Feminism & Politics of Teen Magazines

Parris will continue her world domination in LA next year off the back of choreographing Justin Bieber videos, JLo’s world tour, and a recently released autobiography, Young Queen, which she wrote in between her “crazy schedule”.

“I worked so hard on it. I wanted people to walk away feeling like they know the real me. I’m so proud of it.”

Parris has been signed to big LA film agency Creative Artists Agency so you can add feature films to her impressive list of achievements sometime soon — she won’t say who with just yet.

Kendal will continue full time at the Palace, which she says is a “dream job”, following a decade-long career in social work.

Just don’t expect her leading any dance classes. “People assume I must be good and to show some moves. I like to groove but that’s about it, I’ll leave that to Parris.”

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