Bhangra comes to Whitehorse

The idea for the Yukon’s first bhangra dance show was born in a Whitehorse kitchen.

The idea for the Yukon’s first bhangra dance show was born in a Whitehorse kitchen.

About a year ago Gurdeep Pandher was at a house party when the band started playing.

The sound of fiddles, mandolin, guitar and Irish whistles filled the house.

Pandher, who has been dancing bhangra for most of his life, started dancing.

“I started dancing in the kitchen and there were a couple of other friends sitting on the couches and they also joined in,” he said.

Before long everyone was dancing.

“We danced bhangra, I would say, for two hours or more.”

The band kept playing long after its set was supposed to end.

It was that night when Pandher discovered how “in sync” bhangra dance and Irish or Scottish music can be, he said.

A year later he’s planning to “bring that dance, that was born in the kitchen, to the stage,” he said.

Bhangra — The Dance of the Punjab is happening at the Old Fire Hall on Dec. 17 at 7 p.m.

Bhangra is a traditional dance from the Indian state of Punjab.

“It was originally a farmers’ dance,” Pandher said. “After harvesting their crops, after all their hard work, after they were done with everything, they used to dance this (to show) a sense of accomplishment and happiness.”

The Whitehorse show will include performances by Pandher and some of his dance students performing bhangra dance both to traditional music and Irish and Scottish music performed by a live band, the same one that performed that night at the party.

Crooked Folk will feature Keitha Clark and Katie Avery on fiddle, Jerome McIntyre on bodhran/cajon, Calla Paleczny on guitar/mandolin, Lee Covin playing the Irish whistles/small pipes and BJ MacLean on guitar.

Pandher believes the show will be the first of its kind in the Yukon, possibly in the entire North. The idea is to share his culture and connect with others, he said.

“That’s what the uniqueness of our great country is, that we can all connect and share and dance together,” he said.

“I think when people watch it they get a sense of togetherness.”

Pandher was born and raised in Punjab. He moved to Canada 10 years ago and arrived in the Yukon in 2012.

He began teaching bhangra dancing in Whitehorse not long after he arrived. What was supposed to be a one-time class at the Canada Games Centre quickly became a more permanent thing.

About 20 people showed up for the first class and they kept coming.

Since then he’s moved his drop-in classes to the Whitehorse United Church every Wednesday.

Starting this January he’ll be offering a series of classes at Leaping Feats Creative Danceworks in Riverdale.

Classes average about 25 students, Pandher said. They come for fun, for the workout and to try something new.

“It’s just an expression of joy and happiness. People keep smiling.”

Pandher took professional bhangra classes in high school but has been dancing on and off for his whole life.

“I started with my birth,” he said, laughing.

The style of dance is part of his Sikh and Punjabi culture, he said.

“It’s in weddings, it’s in parties, it’s in every celebration actually.”

Showing other people how to dance also clearly makes him happy.

“After my class I keep dancing in my mind for maybe two hours,” he said.

He’s posted a handful of videos online of himself, and sometimes a partner, dancing in front of many Yukon landmarks.

“A lot of people who didn’t know about Whitehorse were messaging me about Whitehorse,” he said. “People from South America, people from other parts of the world who didn’t know about the Yukon. I think we helped a little bit with exposing the Yukon to the world.”

People back in India also keep an eye out for his videos, he said.

“Being from a small village, where people know each and every one, everyone in my village watches these Yukon-made videos,” he said.

“It’s awesome, it’s so wonderful, it’s crazy.”

Tickets for Bhangra — The Dance of the Punjab are available through the Yukon Arts Centre, Arts Underground and YukonTickets.com. Admission is $20. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the show starts at 7 p.m.

For more information about Pandher and his classes, visit www.gurdeep.ca.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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