By: Jennifer Dann
1 You grew up in East Auckland the daughter of a Samoan mum and Pakeha dad. What were the challenges of being ‘Afakasi’?
There were only two Polynesians in my year at school. I remember being teased for the way I looked and wishing I could change it. My Samoan culture plays a big part in my life. I wanted to go to a school that would celebrate that so in third form I switched to Auckland Girls Grammar. Straight away I felt at home because there were other mixed girls like me.
2 As a dancer and choreographer you’re largely self-taught. Why’s that?
I tried ballet classes but I didn’t like someone telling me how to dance. To me dance is freedom and escape so it didn’t make sense that I had to do it in a specific way. There weren’t many hip hop classes around at that time. I tried finding the right studio but didn’t feel at home anywhere. I was always on my own journey.
3 You left school at 15 to pursue your dancing dream. Why didn’t school work for you?
Dance had been my calling from such a young age. I just wasn’t engaged in anything I was learning at school. I dreaded it. I’d either go in really late or not at all. Around the time I dropped out I became obsessed with watching videos of people around the world dancing on YouTube. I’d spend hours learning all the dance styles and putting my own spin on them. It was an amazing learning tool.
4 When you were 16 your dad emailed you and your sisters and asked you all to write down your goals for the future. Your top goal was to start your own dance school. Why?
That was a massive goal for me. Why was I so ambitious so young? It’s kind of weird – I don’t know. I wanted to create a studio where you could not just learn some moves but where you could take yourself to the international stage.
I wanted to create an environment where hard work and dreaming big was the key mindset.
5 You started the Palace studio at 17 and took the ReQuest dance crew to the World Hip Hop Championships where you won gold. Did that cement your international reputation?
Winning the hip hop champs was the key platform I had to make a name for myself but once we’d won it three times I was ready for a new goal. We’ve continued sending medal-winning crews over the years but it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars each time and there are other ways to get our name out there.
6 Jennifer Lopez invited you to choreograph for her after seeing one of your YouTube clips. You’ve gone on to work with the biggest names in pop including Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande, Janet Jackson and Jason Derulo. Do you ever get star struck?
I was never a person who spent their life obsessed with celebrities. I’m just excited to be able to collaborate. The cameras make celebrities look like gods but when you start working with them you realise they’re human just like you. Rihanna is my favourite to work with because she makes me feel so comfortable I can just be myself and give my best. Also she knows what she wants, which makes it so much easier to do my job of bringing her vision to life.
7 Your video for Justin Bieber’s hit Sorry has had a record 2.8 billion hits. What was it like when it went viral?
Justin gave me three weeks to produce 12 different videos, one for each track on the album. Somehow we just managed to finish on time but it was so rushed. We’d filmed Sorry that day and I stayed up all night to edit it. I didn’t even have time to decide if I liked it, I just sent it in.
None of us expected that kind of response. It will go down in history for sure.
I think the things that made it successful were
1) Justin Bieber isn’t in the video which makes it different. You can tell the ReQuest crew are not from LA. Everyone was thinking, “Who are these girls?”
2) It’s visually really clean, just a white room with girls in colourful outfits; and
3) The choreography’s really strong. Justin was really easy to work with. You get some divas but he’s so chill and open to trying anything and being vulnerable which is really special.
8 Why did you decide to shave off all your hair at age 18?
I was going through a really rough time. It was weird – everything was going great, we were on a big TV show called America’s Best Dance Crew, but I just didn’t feel good with myself. I wanted to start fresh. Shaving my head was a symbolic clean slate. As soon as I did it I felt new and light and free. I kept it that way for five years. To live as a bald woman is really empowering. A lot of us rely on our hair to make us feel feminine. When you get rid of it you have to stand tall and your lift your chin like,
“This is me. Take it or leave it.”
9 In your book you open up about experiencing periods of depression at ages 13 and 18. How did you come through those times?
Being 13 was a bad year – switching schools really helped. A big thing for me is doing things I’m passionate about. I feel such a light when I’m doing what I love. It brings me down a lot if I don’t feel like I’m fulfilling my purpose. I think it’s the same with anyone stuck in jobs or relationships they don’t want to be in. Depression is so common. I think most people go through types of it at some stage, maybe more intense or prolonged for some.
10 What helps you most when you’re down?
The best thing I can do is talk to someone. I’ll ring my mum or my sister and tell them exactly how I feel – even if it’s crazy. I find it’s better to bounce my thoughts off someone. It helps me to process them better instead of just going round and round in my head. I usually find if I can talk and cry about it, I’ll go to bed and the next day I’ll feel a lot better. I’d advise anyone to find someone you trust and feel comfortable with and tell them how you feel.
11 Your book has a chapter devoted to the joys of being single. Did it take a while to reach that place?
After breaking up with my last serious boyfriend it took about a year and half to figure out I actually enjoyed being single. I’ve been single for over four years now and I love it so much. I’ve found my own voice. I can be so independent. If I have a day off, I’ll spend it by myself. I know what I want to do. I know where I want to go for lunch. I thought it was important to write about that because I never had anyone tell me it’s actually cool to be by yourself.
12 What has it been like writing your own book?
I thought it would be cool to write a book one day but I’d imagined doing it later in life. Dad pointed out that New Zealand kids are already studying me in high school so why not give them the story from the horse’s mouth? It took me about a year to write it with help from Tracey O’Connor, an LA writer. Writing it was so therapeutic. I’m so proud of all the positive messages I’m sharing. I wrote it like I’m just sitting there talking to the reader like a friend. I’ve always kept a certain mystery about me. This book is going to change that a lot but I knew that if I was going to share my story I had to do it 100 per cent. My fans have been riding with me for years so they deserve that door to be opened.
Parris: Young Queen by Parris Goebel with Tracy O’Connor (Mary Egan Publishing rrp$34.99) is available on Thursday.
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
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• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• Samaritans 0800 726 666
• If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
Source: NZ Herald