Star On The Rise: Choreographer Parris Goebel Invites Us Inside Her Los Angeles Home
Parris Goebel’s rise to the top has not come without some serious work. Dan Ahwa tries to keep up with the multi-faceted creative in her Los Angeles home as she prepares for her next big move
It’s not quite February, yet Parris Goebel already has one co-ordinated dance foot on the accelerator.
The 28-year-old award-winning choreographer and creative director, who hails from Manurewa, was appointed a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit on January 1 as part of the New Year Honours list, for services to dance.
The following week, she released a dance video which she directed and choreographed, featuring an all-female troupe of 52 dancers performing an intricate routine to Justin Bieber’s new single Yummy.
The video attracted more YouTube views and outlandish viral TikTok parodies than Bieber’s official music video, prompting the video service to remove Parris’ version for several hours. The ensuing outcry from fans (and the number of likes in comparison to Bieber’s) confirmed that her version was, quite frankly, better.
Week three of January and she announced her partnership with Sony Pictures to direct a film adaptation of her 2013 stage show Murder on the Dance Floor with producer Marc Platt, whose credentials include overseeing the 2016 box office success La La Land; and, as I write this, the ink is still drying on a deal she’s signed with global model and talent kingpin IMG Models, who manage the careers of Kate Moss and Gigi Hadid.
Oh, and then there’s Super Bowl this Sunday — that grandiose display of Americana with its potent blend of sports, celebrity and consumerism.
There to dazzle in its Halftime Show will be Jennifer Lopez, who has been put through her paces by Parris for the past few weeks in Miami.
To understand the magnitude of the honour, that 13-minute half-time performance will be seen by a collective global audience of more than 100 million people. No pressure, Parris.
Away from the heady glamour of show business and the noise of social media where the majority of her plugged-in fan base engage via her Instagram or YouTube accounts, Parris finds quiet respite in a recently acquired mid-century home on a sleepy cul-de-sac in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles.
It’s not unlike a neighbourhood from Pleasantville, complete with fluttering American flags.
I wonder if her neighbours realise they live next door to a bona fide creative tour de force whose phone number is on speed dial for the likes of Janet Jackson and Rihanna?
When I visit, we sit at her glass dining table, a crystal chandelier reflecting light across the room like diamonds.
Parris is fresh-faced and wears a pale pink hoodie that matches the sorbet-coloured interiors she has decorated to create this, her private retreat. If she wanted to hang up her dance shoes and take up interior design, she’d probably excel in that too.
“It took me about three weeks to do the place up,” she says of the three-bedroom 50s-style home.
“I used to live in Hollywood in a studio apartment, and as soon as I came across this house I saw a lot of potential.”
On the coffee table are books about female artists she admires or references in her work, and the walls feature abstract paintings of women.
"I just love women and am inspired by great feminists,” she says, “and I knew I wanted to invest my money into some really amazing artwork.”
Having a base in LA means being right at the epicentre of her work commitments and an opportunity to further explore her passions for directing and acting. She recently signed with top talent agency Creative Artists Agency (CAA).
She travels back and forth from LA to Auckland, where her parents and siblings Jarek, Kendal and Narelle live. Her father Brett continues to manage brand Parris from here.
“A dream of mine was always to have an office in my home,” she says, leading me to the creative chaos of a room with a large wooden desk, chaise lounge and a pink neon sign with her name on it.
A whiteboard is scribbled with some sort of formation of a routine.
“I’m a creative being. I like colour and odd stuff that doesn’t match. I find it so exciting. My mum’s hard out into it, so I guess I naturally have a vibe for interiors.”
It’s a creative inclination that also stems from her first passion.
At 17 she established her popular hip-hop dance studio The Palace Dance Studio in Penrose, spawning a cult-like congregation of dancers who’ve since gone on to take out world hip-hop championship titles with her dance crew The Royal Family.
The “kids” as she affectionately refers to her dancers, now sell out shows all over the world — and that’s without Parris performing.
“I feel really proud of that. There’s no point in creating something that relies on you and your face. You want your friends to be able to benefit from the opportunities.”
The real linchpin came in 2012, when Jennifer Lopez invited Parris to choreograph a routine for her tour that year after seeing her performing to Etta James’ 1968 hit I’d Rather Go Blind on YouTube. Sunday’s Super Bowl Halftime Show will be a full circle moment for Parris.
“Jen and I started from scratch and we’ve been collaborating every day from song choices to concepts, so it’s been very special. She is a boss. When you’re working with her, you’re really working with the best.”
Her work with long-time collaborator Rihanna is also noteworthy.
Last year Parris choreographed the singer’s New York Fashion Week presentation for her Savage Fenty lingerie collection, no mean feat considering the number of bodies she had to manoeuvre on a stage combining musical performances, dance and a traditional fashion show format.
“My job was not only to choreograph it, but to make sure there was a heartbeat too. We had 50 girls of all ethnicities, shapes and sizes. When you’re working with someone like Rih, you kind of have an idea of what she wants. I was able to cast anyone in the world — and that rarely happens in the dance industry.
“You always have to look or dance a certain way. There’s always that box you have to tick.”
Indeed diversity and inclusion are part and parcel of Parris’ goals, but authenticity is what drives her the most. As a proud Polynesian woman of Samoan, Chinese and Scottish descent, Parris’ own experiences growing up as a mixed-race child resonate with her fan base — and she’s aware of the influence she wields, particularly on Pacific women young and old.
“Absolutely there’s overkill with words like diversity and representation being used as a marketing ploy. But it’s not completely negative because it’s still opening the door. There are lots of dancers now doing jobs that they would never have been able to perform on a platform like the Savage show, even as recently as three years ago. That’s progress.”
It’s an attitude she is helping foster at a grassroots level — her work with sisters Kendal and Narelle and their organisation Sisters United, which launched in 2018 and is now in 16 New Zealand high schools, provides creative workshops for predominantly young Maori and Pacific girls to express themselves, helping tackle everything from bullying to body image, issues Parris can relate to on a personal level.
“The girls need to feel like they’re not sitting around talking about their feelings. They want to feel like they’re organically expressing themselves. When they’re dancing, they’re not thinking deeply about what they’ve been through, and their issues. They’re focused on confidence and self-love. Some of these girls can’t even stand up and say their name in front of people. By the end of the year, they’re doing spoken-word poetry in front of a large audience.”
It’s a confidence-booster plucked from her own life story, with Parris identifying those formative high school years as a major turning point. By 14, she switched schools to the mostly Maori and Pacific Island Auckland Girls’ Grammar School, where she found freedom in being surrounded by girls who acted and looked like her. “I just felt happier because I felt like I could be myself and let go. I used to straighten my hair all the time and suppress my culture to fit in. A lot of our afakasi [half-caste] youth struggle with fitting in at school.”
She also offered her insights to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on her appointment last year as the entertainment and cultural curator for New Zealand at Expo 2020, in Dubai in October.
“Not many people have the opportunity to have an open conversation with her about what our youth are facing. I told her our youth have the talent, but we don’t have the confidence to put ourselves out there. They’re following in our footsteps of tall poppy syndrome, of being too cool and not wanting to stand out. That’s always been an issue for us Kiwis. We’re trying to be humble all the time when actually, you can still put yourself out there and chase your dreams.”
As we step outside into her front yard to take a few photos against the backdrop of a Californian sunset, I wonder whether Parris, in all her 28 years, has been able to reflect fully on the millions of lives she’s impacting — aspiring dancers trying to pay their rent, disenfranchised youth, alienated mixed-race people, Polynesian girls trying to juggle cultural expectations in a Western society ...
“It’s always hard to reflect on everything you’ve done over the years. I guess that’s something you don’t consider until you’re older. It still feels like a big dream, you know what I mean?
“I am so much more than what people see me as. So when I’m using my art form or my voice to move people and to change the way they feel about themselves, or to walk a little taller, then I truly feel like I’m living in my purpose.”
With the full speed at which everything is spinning around on planet Parris these days, I ask her what advice she would give her younger self. She pauses for what seems like an eternity.
“I would definitely tell my younger self to take your time. When you’re really hard on yourself, it’s hard to know that you’re enough — that it’s enough.
“I’d pat myself on the back more and maybe smell the roses a little instead of trying to move on to the next thing and outdo myself.
“These days I’m telling myself, ‘Parris, you need to just stop moving on to the next thing. You’re doing amazing’.”
Fashion director / Dan Ahwa. Photographer / Guy Coombes. Makeup / Melina Farhadi