Bringing Bhangra to the Boreal

Gurdeep Pandher doesn't recommend eating before his Bhangra dance class, but that warning didn't come until after I had already finished a plate piled high with curried vegetables and rice.

Gurdeep Pandher doesn’t recommend eating before his Bhangra dance class, but that warning didn’t come until after I had already finished a plate piled high with curried vegetables and rice.

Food isn’t usually offered before the class, but this was the first time that it had been put on at the Association franco-yukonnaise.

After food was done and the tables were rolled away, Pandher closed the drapes and plugged in his iPod.

Standing at the front of the room sporting a bright blue turban, Pandher called the class to attention.

The first dance move seemed easy enough, but after a few minutes of holding my hands in the air and shrugging my shoulders in time with the music they started to feel a little strained.

It’s a pretty common reaction, said Pandher, who describes Bhangra as a natural alternative to aerobics.

“That’s why it has so many health benefits,” he said. “When you work-out on a treadmill you start to sweat after 15 or 20 minutes, but in this dace you start to sweat after five minutes. Some people even start to sweat after two minutes.”

Pandher, 35, who works as a web designer, credits Bhangra with helping to relieve work-related aches and pains.

“I work a lot on computers and due to overuse of my right arm with too much mousing I had pain in my right arm and shoulder that was terrible,” he said, “I went to doctor and he said do some exercises.

“This dancing really helped me and I don’t feel that pain right now.”

Pandher first started taking Bhangra classes as a 16-year-old living in the northern Indian city of Ludhiana.

Bhangra is a catchall for a number of Punjabi folkdances that were traditionally performed by men after a harvest.

“It originated about 400 years ago,” said Pandher “This is dance of farmers after harvesting wheat crops and selling at the grain market.

“When they made money they used to dance Bhangra for celebration. That’s why this is such a powerful dance, because farmers they are always tough guys and they created this tough dance.”

The dance isn’t limited to harvest time any more.

“We dance it at weddings, at parties, in every celebration, so it’s very important for everyone to learn this dance professionally.”


Pandher stopped dancing Bhangra when he immigrated to Canada in 2006.

He first moved to Squamish, B.C. but there weren’t any Bhangra classes there. Instead he started taking ballet.

Pandher lived in Squamish for four years and then moved to Saskatchewan.

After visiting Whitehorse on vacation in June 2011, he made his mind up to move north.

“I just found everyone so friendly,” he said.

He arrived in Whitehorse in September 2012.

“I’m planning on staying here,” said Pandher. “I like it. It’s a bit chilly but it’s good.”

But it’s not always easy to live far away, he said.

“I’m making sacrifices by staying away from my parents and siblings. I miss them a lot, but still I feel happy here because I got so many friends,” said Pandher. “I would say I have hundreds of friends in this town and they’re all beautiful.”

Pandher wasn’t always so positive about things.

When he first moved to Canada it was very difficult, he said.

“It was a huge change,” he said. “I was crying, I was missing my family and if you go to my Facebook page you’ll find those things reflected in my words.”

In an effort to deal with the loneliness Pandher started posting poetry on his Facebook page.

It now has more than 20,000 “likes.”

“When I started my page two years ago, I didn’t know that I would grab so many fans from all over the world and after having so many fans I feel that everybody goes through painful emotional struggle somehow, it doesn’t matter where he or she is.”

Expressing himself and connecting with people through art are key to his positive outlook, he said.

“I feel that my poetry and my dancing help me a lot because when I write poetry and I put it on Facebook, thousands of people read that poetry and send me their feedback,” said Pandher. “It’s the same in dancing.

“When I dance, I feel emotional energy running between me and my students and I listen to their feedback. It makes me happy.”

Pandher started teaching Bhangra classes in the first week of January. Within a month, he had about 16 people a class.

He often starts the class with a short primer on Punjabi language and culture.

Promoting cross-cultural dialogue is important to him. Canada’s multicultural reputation is one of the main reasons he chose to come.

“It’s good to have these kind of differences,” said Pandher. “It makes our lives so colourful.

“If there is just one type of people in the world, our lives would be so boring.”

He now does a class at the Canada Games Centre’s wellness studio every Sunday at 1 p.m. and for the last couple months he’s been teaching classes on Friday evenings at various places around town.

This Friday he wants to start doing classes outdoors at Shipyards Park.

“This is very fast dance and people can dance outside – if there’s minus five or minus six temperature, that’s no problem,” said Pandher. “If it’s minus 20, then we can’t.”

The Friday classes start at 7 p.m., weather permitting. The cost is $10, but it’s free for kids.

Contact Josh Kerr at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kwanlin Dün First Nation chief Doris Bill holds up a signed copy of the KDFN <em>Lands Act</em> agreement during an announcement at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in Whitehorse on Oct. 20. Under the new act, called Nan kay sháwthän Däk’anúta ch’e (We all look after our land) in Southern Tutchone, KDFN will be able to allot citizens land to build their own houses on, for example, or to use for traditional activities. The First Nation will also be able to enforce laws around things like land access and littering. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s Lands Act comes into force

The act gives the First Nation the authority to manage, protect and enforce laws on its settlement lands

Two doctors in Watson Lake say they are at risk of losing their housing due to a Yukon Housing Corporation policy that only allows one pet per family. (Wikimedia Commons)
Healthcare workers in Watson Lake say housing pet policy could force them to leave

The Yukon Housing Corporation has threatened evictions for having more than one pet

The Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services building in Whitehorse on March 28, 2019. Three people who sat on Many Rivers’ board immediately before it closed for good say they were relieved to hear that the Yukon RCMP has undertaken a forensic audit into the now-defunct NGO’s financial affairs. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Former Many Rivers board members relieved to hear about forensic audit, wonder what took so long

Three people who sat on Many Rivers’ board immediately before it closed… Continue reading

Whitehorse General Hospital in Whitehorse on Feb. 14, 2019. The Yukon Employees’ Union and Yukon Hospital Corporation are at odds over whether there’s a critical staffing shortage at the territory’s hospitals. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
YEU, Yukon Hospital Corp. at odds over whether hospitals are understaffed

YEU says four nurses quit within 12 hours last week, a claim the YHC says is “inaccurate”

Two former Whitehorse Correctional Centre inmates, Ray Hartling and Mark Lange, have filed a class action against the jail, corrections officials and Yukon government on behalf of everyone who’s been placed in two restrictive units over the past six years. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Class action filed against Whitehorse Correctional Centre over use of segregation

Two former Whitehorse Correctional Centre inmates have filed a class action against… Continue reading

Smartphone showing various applications to social media services and Google. (Pixabay photo)
National media calling for level playing field with Google, Facebook

In Canada, Google and Facebook control 80 per cent of all online advertising revenues

Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee, right, before question period at the Yukon legislative assembly in Whitehorse on March 7, 2019. The Yukon government announced Oct. 19 it has increased the honoraria rates for school council members. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Honoraria increased for school council members

Members of school councils throughout the territory could soon receive an increased… Continue reading

Triple J’s Canna Space in Whitehorse on April 17, 2019, opens their first container of product. Two years after Canada legalized the sale of cannabis, Yukon leads the country in per capita legal sales. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon leads Canadian cannabis sales two years after legalization

Private retailers still asking for changes that would allow online sales

A sign greets guests near the entrance of the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse on June 11. The city announced Oct. 16 it was moving into the next part of its phased reopening plan with spectator seating areas open at a reduced capacity to allow for physical distancing. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
CGC reopening continues

Limited spectator seating now available

During Whitehorse city council’s Oct. 19 meeting, planning manager Mélodie Simard brought forward a recommendation that a proposed Official Community Plan amendment move forward that would designate a 56.3 hectare piece of land in Whistle Bend, currently designated as green space, as urban residential use. (Courtesy City of Whitehorse)
More development in Whistle Bend contemplated

OCP change would be the first of several steps to develop future area

EDITORIAL: Don’t let the City of Whitehorse distract you

A little over two weeks after Whitehorse city council voted to give… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Northwestel has released the proposed prices for its unlimited plans. Unlimited internet in Whitehorse and Carcross could cost users between $160.95 and $249.95 per month depending on their choice of package. (Yukon News file)
Unlimited internet options outlined

Will require CRTC approval before Northwestel makes them available

Most Read