Parris Goebel is no stranger to being on a global stage.
So she dove right in when given the assignment of a lifetime: choreographing for Jennifer Lopez, at the Super Bowl halftime show.
The job demanded ongoing collaboration with the N.F.L., the technical team behind the digital stages, the lighting crews, the camera crews and in this case, Shakira’s full teams of dancers, musicians and crew.
As soon as the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs left the field at the end of the second quarter, hundreds of crew members rushed to the 50-yard line to build the stage in minutes. Screaming fans, there to populate the stage’s fringes, filed out onto the field, joined shortly by dozens of dancers. Seconds after Lopez and Shakira finished their performance, the halftime show crews ran off the field as players returned.
In a show that lasted 13 minutes and was broadcast to hundreds of millions of people around the globe, there was no room for error.
But Goebel wasn’t intimidated by that. The 28-year-old choreographer masterminded the dance portions of Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” music video, one of the most viewed videos on YouTube, with 3.2 billion views. (For what it’s worth, Bieber isn’t even in the video.)
Routines performed by Goebel’s dance crews have repeatedly gone viral. In September, Goebel choreographed Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty show in Brooklyn, an event that was translated to a feature on Amazon Prime.
Drafting a routine to entertain 102 million viewers, with extreme technical precision? No problem. The performance drew glowing reviews for its mix of high-intensity moves and affirmations of Latin pride.
We caught up with Goebel a week after the Super Bowl, when she was in New York for Fashion Week, having recently signed with IMG Models.
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
Was this the first time you were working with Jennifer Lopez?
Jen gave me my first job in the industry when I was about 19 years old. She was the first global artist to book me. I was still living in New Zealand at the time. She really nurtured me as an artist.
When she asked me to do the Super Bowl, it felt full circle to come back and collaborate on this huge moment for her and her career. I really wanted to put together a great show, because if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be where I am today. There was a lot of emotional depth in this job for me.
How do you begin visualizing choreography for a performance of this magnitude?
It’s like building a house, it just doesn’t happen straight away. There are so many layers that you could keep building and building and building.
If I hear the music and have a blank canvas, I see what my body wants to do. It’s this combination of having those memories of moving to Jen’s music as a little girl to now as a woman.
You’re trying to predict how people at home are going to feel about it, but you’re in a big empty room. So you try and anticipate people screaming at the TV. That’s why I like surrounding myself with dancers. I watch them and see what they react to, that’s always a good indication.
How did you select the group of dancers?
It was a collaborative process. I basically sent Jen my dream team. She was really passionate about having a lot of Latinos in it, so we kept looking so that she had her people and her team representing. That was really important to her. But she really trusts me, so anyone I put forward she’s cool with.
What was preparing for the halftime show like? When did your work really begin?
We started about three months before the Super Bowl. It was a lot of workshopping.
We began in New York with a really small team. We got to the meat of the show when we started training in Miami. By then we had about 20 guys and 20 girls, and we’d do six days on, then a day off, nine-hour days.
About a month out, we had a really good idea of what we wanted to do, but every day, things were changing. There were a lot of moving parts.
The halftime stage is put together in five minutes. The show lasts for around 13 minutes, with Shakira and J. Lo getting around 6 minutes each. There are endless moving parts, and it’s lightning-fast. How did you train for that kind of performance?
We had all the dimensions tapped down at rehearsal. The last week before the Super Bowl, we rehearsed in “the bubble,” the space where the actual stage was built out with the stairs and everything. Having 80 dancers coming on and off that stage in six minutes is it’s own thing, so we had to really train with that and make sure we weren’t hitting each other.
On Instagram, you posted a video of rehearsal, where you created a dance break to a “Mi Gente” remix with “Love Don’t Cost a Thing.” How did that come together?
Jen kept texting me: “We’ve got to have a dance break.” We just kept playing with different songs, but it wasn’t quite working. She wasn’t in town one day and I was like, “Girls, we’re going to do a dance break, we’re going to make something up and I’m going to show her.”
When she came in the next day, we showed her and she could not contain her excitement. She stood up and was hugging me and saying, “That’s amazing!” And even though we had to cut down on some things, the one thing for sure was that we were going to have to keep that dance break in.
What may viewers at home not know about J. Lo’s performance?
I think probably how athletic it was — what she was doing was not easy. And I’m sure people know that, but I don’t know if they know know that. She could do the choreography straight away, but you have to build your stamina to make it look easy. She makes it look so effortless, it just shows you that she’s a true entertainer.
Every time our dancers would run it, it’s at one hundred percent. You’re performing, you’re pushing your body. They get sore, they had injuries, all of the things that athletes also experience.
When you watch the show, you watch her, but you also see how amazing the dancers are behind her. It was such a group effort. By the end of the two months we were all family, we were dancing for each other, and dancing for Jen, and when you have that connection, there’s a unity and a message.