Culture / People

Parris Goebel on self-expression, going inwards, and calling for respect in the dance industry

parris goebel

"It’s such a large part of who I am, and how I exist in the world and how I express myself. It's my voice, it's how I communicate, it's how I share my story, it's how I share my struggles. How I celebrate myself and my body, and my womanhood. It's given me my purpose and my why."

For dancer and choreographer Parris Goebel, this is where the roots in her craft lie. Movement central to her being, and breathing dance since she could stand on her feet, Goebel's life work is right here in front of us, and spans creative collaborations with names that most of us could only dream up. As undoubtedly one of the most formidable and prolific women in dance of our time, if you don't know her name, you know her work.

Now, Goebel is partnering with Nike as a Global Catalyst and Athlete for Dance to cement dance’s validity as a sport, and help all women build a stronger relationship with sport by inspiring confidence, creativity and self-expression through movement. Below, we chat to Goebel about her relationship with dance, her sprawling career, and why her new partnership with Nike is so exciting.

What was your upbringing like? Where did your journey with dance start…

I was born and raised in New Zealand, in a house full of music and dance. I fell in love with dance, like as soon as I could walk. So you could say I was born to dance. I just knew at a really young age, that this is what I wanted to do, and no one was going to stop me. Then around 15 years old, I started taking it really, really seriously, and that's around about around where YouTube came around. So, I started posting my work on YouTube from New Zealand and just pretty much said a prayer that some someone somewhere would see my work. And that lead to my first big break with J-lo when I was 19.


Tell us about how you moved out of feeling uninspired during lockdown and moved through that energy slump.

I spent most of last year in New Zealand, and as soon as COVID started, I was like, let me go back home and make my base there. For me, I really thrive off expressing myself and challenging myself in different creative fields and avenues. So I felt I just struggled to kind of find ways to create and express and dance and you know, I'm used to working with large groups of dancers on really big projects, and that just fulfils me so much and brings so much joy to my heart. So I think not being able to do that throughout the pandemic has definitely been challenging and in some ways, uninspiring, so I think now that the world's kind of starting to find its groove back and I'm able to work and create on bigger scales. It’a been like a breath of fresh air for me as a as a creative and as a choreographer.


Did you find having that so much time alone offered an opportunity to go inwards with your work?

Every time I create it is so personal. So I feel I'm definitely that kind of artist in general. But I think it just challenged me. I started just doing things that I usually wouldn't do, or trying new things, and I'm sure a lot of people can relate to that. But if I had it my way, I'd be dancing in a room full of people every day.


What was the inspiration behind the recent Savage X Fenty show? What was the process like?

It's always such a fun, amazing show to do. Working with Rihanna is a dream, like, it doesn't get any better than that. Me and her have such an amazing synergy and relationship that she just gets me. So it's amazing to feel supported like that, by another amazing woman and boss. She truly uplifts me and inspires me. So, the process is very collaborative, she just opens the door and allows me to kind of do whatever is in my mind.

For this particular show, when we went to the venue, which was a hotel, for example, we were thinking about how to open the show, I just remember looking at the staircases and the different levels, and it just kind of felt like I was transported to a different city it. I was all of a sudden imagining the opera, like a savage opera. So that's kind of how that idea came about, but it's just an example.

How has dance influenced your relationship with yourself?

It’s such a large part of who I am, and how I exist in the world and how I express myself. It's my voice, it's how I communicate, it's how I share my story, it's how I share my struggles. How I celebrate myself and my body, and my womanhood. It's given me my purpose and my why. And I think when you find that in life, it's a very powerful thing. To me, that's what success is, it’s finding your why and your purpose and living authentically in that light. Dance has really saved my life, it's given me reasons to get up in the morning and to just be myself and then on a self-love level, it's just helped me to love my body and love my flaws in love the things that the world tells us not to love, you know? I'm just grateful. I'm grateful to have dance and to be able to dance and physically express myself like that.


Why is it important to you that dance is recognised as a sport?

That’s really why I'm most excited to be collaborating with Nike, because we have the ability to change that narrative and change how dance is perceived. At the end of the day, yes, dancers are athletes, we are athletes, we train our bodies, we are so disciplined, and within our craft, on the exact same level, and respect as any other sports player. To be great at dance and a solid dancer, it takes a lot of work and years of training.

I think as a dancer, and growing up in the dance community, that's definitely a fight that we feel we have to make every single day –  to fight for dancers rights, fighting for respectable pay, fighting for respect itself. That’s the reality of our art form, people don't view us on the same level as a soccer player or basketball player, any sport like that. So for me, this is something I'm so passionate about, and to be able to collaborate with Nike who are just as passionate and also put their hands up and say, Hey, dancers are athletes, let's make some noise, and let's make change, and let's celebrate dancers and learn more and have an understanding of what it takes to be a professional dancer.


Is dance a political act for you?

For me, I know what I stand for, and the most important thing to me is my art. I live and breathe it, it's not a job for me, it's a lifestyle. I treat my work like the Olympics, it should be a gold medal performance, it should be on that level, just like any other sport. So, that's how serious I take dance and take my art and, and in hopes that the rest of the world will too. The work that I'm doing with Nike is just going to amplify that message.

Where are you most at home?

When I dance, I feel it's my safe space. It's my haven. It's when I feel most confident, most free. I just feel like I'm on fire when I dance, it's a very out of body experience.


What are you looking forward to?

I'm looking forward to change. I'm looking forward for people to see this new space and this new movement that that I'm creating with Nike. I really, I really believe it's going to excite dances all over the world. And anyone that loves dance and enjoys dance or even just loves to watch it. I think this is a much needed movement. And I think it's just a seed that's been planted and I hope that it will inspire other people to join the movement and to use their voices. Because, dancing is really the biggest thing right now in our culture, from Tik Tok to YouTube. People love to watch dance. It's one thing to enjoy it but it's another thing to respect it and I think that's really why I'm here and why I'm working with Nike.



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