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Inside Stories: The Joy of Dancing Bhangra-style

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Christian Kuntz Photography

Christian Kuntz Photography

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Disponible en anglais seulement

From a tiny cabin in the wilderness, Gurdeep Pandher is on a mission to spread joy. How? Through sharing and teaching his love of Bhangra dancing – along with his love of life.

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Inside Stories, presented by BMO, provides an intimate look into the lives and coping strategies of people during the COVID-19 era. From well-known North Americans through to the new everyday heroes at your local grocery store, these unusual times have impacted everyone. Host Scott Simmie asks the questions that count, prompting his guests to share their very personal, inner stories.



Scott Simmie: Hey, nice seeing you again. You know, I’m always happy to get out of the house so I really appreciate you having me over. I’m Scott Simmie and this is a podcast series presented by BMO. It’s called and is about Inside Stories. That means it’s about the many ways we cope and the very different ways we now fill our days. The goal here is to inform, entertain, and possibly even inspire as we collectively weather this storm. We’re all living these Inside Stories, across North America, around your block, and around the world. Welcome. 

Scott: Hear that? That is Bhangra music and it was composed by our guest, Gurdeep Pandher, but Gurdeep is better known for dancing and best known for inspiring others to learn this high-energy, feel-good style of dancing. In fact, his viral Bhangra dancing videos, which feature groups of happy people in motion have brought joy right around the world. Gurdeep joins us today from a small cabin outside of Whitehorse in the Yukon. Now Gurdeep, you’re originally from the state of Punjab in India, how did you wind up in Whitehorse?

Gurdeep Pandher: It was interesting journey like when I was a university student in Punjab, I was doing my Masters in public admin, so students used to talk about Canada at that time. They used to say that, hey Canada is most peaceful country in the world and yes, indeed it is. So, I think that that is partly to, to go to Canada like just to, to a peaceful country in the world. 

Scott: Now, I know that you had studied dance when, when in Punjab. I’m curious how the idea first came to you to start posting videos about this and to see that, if this would catch on here?

Gurdeep: In my dancing world, I would say my whole life, things started without any plans. So, so what happened I think in 2016 it was Canada Day, one of my friends she and I did a performance at Canada Day. After that performance I just posted it on my Facebook, just for fun, the way we, we post photos like going after for a hike, we post photos we after go for a good walk we, we come home and post photos. It was in a similar fashion. I did something and I came home, I posted on Facebook and overnight 300,000 people watched it. 

Scott: Wow!

Gurdeep: So when I woke up next day in the morning, lots of notifications were showing up in my, in my Facebook. Oh my god it was such a surprise, so, so that’s how it started like it wasn’t, not a plan to go on social media. I think people, like, their love and the passion they brought me into this world.

Scott: What do you think it is about it that, that appeals and, and that strikes a chord with people?

Gurdeep: Two elements I think they are very important. First and foremost is, is, it’s joy, it’s happiness. Everybody, doesn’t matter in what state or condition is wants to be happy. We all just want to be happy. Secondly, that we live in, in a world, a modern world when we sometimes feel [inaudible], but I feel that with this dance I was able to give a message of unity, togetherness. By the end of the day we are people, we are humans, and, and we belong to one community of the world and, and if we think from bigger perspective there’s no difference between any of us. Like, we, we, all people on this Earth, we’re just like a one family and so I think that people like that, that concept that hey, okay, that person thinks differently, that person differently, they can have different opinions, but still, still we have some commonalities we share. And third element I would say that Bhangra is, is high-energy dance, it’s not like you just stand and slow, gently, it’s, it’s hardcore. So it’s a good workout. Many people they. They like it cause they get, they get like a gym-style workout. I think these type of elements that brought [inaudible].

Scott: Any of the videos of yours that I’ve seen that have other people dancing, they all, without except, I think, seem to have a smile on their face and it makes me smile just to watch how happy those people look. So I’m, I’m interested, perhaps to even try it myself with maybe an, an online class and I, I understand right now that you are, you are doing during this era some, some online classes for people who are interested. Tell us about that.

Gurdeep: Yes, before this COVID-19 started I was doing in-person classes, but instantly things changed. Some friends they started giving me an idea of starting online classes. I was very hesitant cause I always believed in like in-person, with real people. I never did a virtual class before. But, but then there was no option, so I decided to give it a try and, and very, in my very first class seventy people from all over Canada joined in. 

Scott: Wow!

Gurdeep: There was people in this Zoom room and just learning moves from me. That was quite enthusiastic and, and that’s how it started. I decided to make my classes in such a way so that, like, people who have less income they can pay less, people who have more income they can pay more, and also on top of that I decided to donated 25% of whatever I earn from, from these classes. 

Scott: I’m guessing that, that this, this dancing and, and displaying it on social media really helped some people appreciate multiculturalism in, in a new way and I’m, I’m curious if you found that, or if you heard that, or if that’s just my imagination? 

Gurdeep: So when people see people from different backgrounds or different types of people from all walks of life dancing together, they feel that they are one. And then they feel that, that concept of multiculturalism it blurs actually. They feel that even there’s no multiculturalism, they’re just people dancing together, like, we are all, all people. So, I try to present through my dances multiculturalism in such a way that it also doesn’t look like multiculturalism, it looks like people dancing together, people doing things together, and, and it’s normal, it’s normal. When we change our lens we, we, we can think differently. How we can accept each other, how we love each other, how we can appreciate people from different cultures, from different backgrounds. How we can see each other as one. I think it’s a great, great message we all need to give to and I’m happy that people are seeing in a positive way. 

Scott: I’m just gonna set dancing aside for a minute. I’m curious about you and how, how your own life has changed during, during the pandemic? You know, what a typical day might be like, and, and how you’re coping?

Gurdeep: I will say that it changed a lot. Now I have been working from home, right now I am at home. So, which is a, is a great change, because I used to, in my typical day, I used to go for work in an office setting and I used to after, after my office I used to do my dance classes in the evenings mostly. And nowadays I’m doing work online, my classes online, everything is online, I’m meeting so many people through Zoom or through other social media like Skype, or Facebook. Yeah, so it’s a big change, like, the way I’m using, like, teleconferencing, I didn’t use it that much before. So that is a big change for me, but I feel that, feel a great, that I live in a cabin out of Whitehorse, so I, I don’t have many people around except that bagpiper friend in my neighbourhood. He became famous on, on, on social media, so he’s the only person I run into all the time and, and, yeah, I explore my areas around. I go for walks, I go for run, I watch wildlife. It looks so beautiful, so I’m feeling that these days I’m doing a lot of, like, teleconferencing and also exploring a lot of nature and of course making Bhangra dance videos too. 

Scott: Are you living on your own then in this cabin that’s outside of Whitehorse, is that correct?

Gurdeep: Yeah, that is correct. Yeah. 

Scott: And, and that’s where, you know, are dancing, are online dancing is coming from, from that cabin out in the, I don’t want to say the middle of nowhere, but out in the wilderness, correct?

Gurdeep: That’s hundred percent true, all the classes are done from the cabin in the wilderness. [Lots of laughter]

Scott: And, and finally, do you, do you family in India and if so how are they coping?

Gurdeep: India is under lockdown as well. So, same thing, they are staying home and things are a bit difficult for them and challenging too, but I belong to a farming family. Everybody’s on farms, so in some ways they are dealing okay cause they don’t need to go anywhere to pick up their groceries, they grow all the food in the farm. Even the milk is from home, so in that way it’s, it’s, the, the way they’re dealing is, is, is going wonderful so far, but yes, everybody is staying home. There are no social interactions, which, which I think is a good news. 

Scott: I want to read something that I pasted from your website and this is what it says: Out of whatever we make, it is a good practice to give back to our families, communities, friends looking for support, elders, and people in need. In a bigger perspective, the whole universe is our family and it’s our responsibility to contribute toward humanity. Therefore, rising above our religions, backgrounds, nationalities, or other personal zones, it’s important to reach out, share, and develop a culture of care. Sharing has positive and far-reaching ripple effects. That is followed by a list as long as my arm of places where you have volunteered, donated time, raised money, etc. which says an awful lot about you and I think there is a great lesson here for the rest of us. But the reality is, is that all of us are in this shared time that for many is, is a difficult, difficult time and I’m wondering if you have any, any tips that you can share on how to try to maintain positivity and, and maintain sort of the essence of what I just read during all of this?

Gurdeep: Well, very good question, Scott. Yes, I think we all people we go through roller-coaster, like, sometimes we are happy, sometimes we are sad. I feel that sad is also, also good. Sadness is also good. But when people are going through really tough times, like COVID, first it’s very important to take care of other people, so that they can take care of us as well. So it’s very important to reach out and share whatever you have. And secondly, I feel that living in the moment is very important practice. Before COVID we didn’t know that we would be in this situation, it gives us a very great lesson that the world is very unpredictable. If we, we think that we have everything, like, I have a nice house, I have a nice car, I have a nice job, I have a beautiful family and everything is going to be perfect forever, no it’s not gonna happen. So never, ever  in, in life we shouldn’t take this granted. We shouldn’t never take anything granted, anything can change anytime. So we should be prepared for any emergency and, and during those times just being very optimist that things will change, things will—that time will change, and, and during those times living in the moment, and sharing, taking care of our loved ones, not only—when I say our loved ones, it’s not like just our family, like wife or children or spouse or husband, not like that. Like, everybody, from, from different communities, from people from different nationalities, people from different backgrounds, it’s important to take care of everyone, like, to come out of our own personal zone so that we can develop yes a great culture of care for each other. It is very, very important to share, cause we humans we are on this world just for a short period of time. 

Gurdeep: I feel that our trip, our lifetime is just like checking into a hotel room. I usually say this to my friends. I say that hey when we were born it’s like we checked in and very soon we will check out. So, someone will checkout early, someone will check out later, but everyone will have to do. Like, we have very short lifetime and, and if we collect a lot of wealth, a lot of money, we are gonna leave it here, we are not gonna take it with us. So, so then what’s the point of collecting things or what’s the point of collecting money or materials? It’s important to share, that generates a lot of happiness, that generates a lot of joy, and it, it, it creates positive ripple effects. Even in difficult situations this kind of acts they make people happy. Like to create happiness, we don’t need to create perfect world. We can create happiness in the world which is not perfect. The world is never gonna be perfect, it will always be imperfect. Only perfection we can create when we, when we can do things together, we share, we distribute, we live in the moment, and, and we think that all humans are equal and same. Like, this is my message, sorry it was a bit long.

Scott: That was a terrific answer, thank you, thank you so much. Now this is a new podcast and this is a new sound, and that sound made by a drinking glass and a fork means that we’re gonna wrap things up with a few quick questions and a few very quick answers. Are you ready?

Gurdeep: Yes, I am ready!

Scott: Who is the best Bhangra musician and how can I find their music? Give me a name that, that people could look up.

Gurdeep: His name is Malkit Singh, he lives in the UK, he’s the best Bhangra musician.

Scott: Where is the best place to go grab a meal or a beer in Whitehorse, even if it’s closed for now? So that when people come to visit you later on, they’ll know where to go.

Gurdeep: There’s a restaurant which I like, it’s, it’s called Cantina Sanchez. It’s the best place to go to get a meal. 

Scott: And finally, what is the first thing you’re going to do when restrictions are lifted?

Gurdeep: I’m going to invite all of my students back to my cabin and dance together!

Scott: Lovely! It has been such a delight speaking with you, Gurdeep. Gurdeep Pandher, thank you so much for sharing your Inside Story today. 

Gurdeep: Thank you so much, Scott, for having me it was such a pleasure and honor to talk with you. 

Scott: Hope you enjoyed today’s episode. If you did, please subscribe. Just as important, please consider giving the show a rating. This is especially important if you like it and not so much if you don’t. if you’d like to check out more about Gurdeep, his website I’m Scott Simmie, thanks for having me over, I really like what you’ve done with the place!

Woman: The views expressed here are those of the participants and not those of Bank of Montreal, its affiliates, or subsidiaries.



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