With his high-stepping feet, sweeping arm movements and infectious exuberance, Gurdeep Pandher is deploying an energetic Punjabi folk dance to fend off pandemic blues while simultaneously promoting cultural diversity and inclusion. In 2006, the poet, author, artist and, more recently, Twitter-famous bhangra dancer moved to Canada and travelled across the country before finally settling in the Yukon. When Covid-19 hit, he took his popular dance classes online to raise both spirits and money for hospitals and food banks. His Twitter posts (including one of a dance session with the Canadian Armed Forces retweeted by Prime Minister Trudeau) tend to go viral – it’s hard to watch Pandher biking along a dirt road and stopping suddenly to dance bhangra in a field of wildflowers without feeling just a little bit better about the world. We reached Pandher in his cabin in the wilderness outside Whitehorse to chat about the beauty of travel in Canada, getting stuck in the snow and the responsibility that comes with social media stardom.
enRoute You grew up in the remote village of Siahar in India’s Punjab state before leaving to attend college in Ludhiana, Punjab. What is your favourite memory from your childhood in Siahar?
Gurdeep Pandher I grew up without technology – it was very much a traditional farming lifestyle. We didn’t even have a clock! We woke up with the sunrise and ate food from the land, irrigated with water from the Himalayas. I remember running through the village with the other children with no worries about anything – it is a beautiful memory.
ER In 2006, you came to Canada and travelled widely across the country before becoming a citizen in 2011. What do you love most about travelling in Canada?
GP There are two things – one is our country’s incredible landscape and natural elegance. When you are on a flight anywhere in Canada and look out your window, you can’t help thinking, “Oh my! So beautiful!” The other thing I love is that we have so many cultures, subcultures and microcultures in Canada, and every single one has its own unique beauty.
ER You’ve said that smaller communities are your favourite places to visit – why is that?
GP When I became a Canadian citizen, I felt even more passionate about learning about this country. To me, becoming a citizen does not mean that you get some papers from the government and that’s it – it means that you explore and learn about the people and their culture and the way they live. Local cultures, arts and people attract me. I like to take road trips to see smaller communities that you’d miss otherwise – it’s in these communities that people have more care and compassion for each other.