Rural Living, Specialty/Niche December 01, 2022
Dancing for Joy
Gurdeep Pandher and the power of positivity.
"Dear Gurdeep—Thank you for sharing your joy of living via Bhangra. It makes me smile each and every time."—excerpt from a fan letter to Gurdeep.
If Canada ever creates an Ambassador of Joy, the country will have a hard time finding anyone better suited for the role than Bhangra dancing Sikh-Canadian, Gurdeep Pandher. His daily inspirational dance videos, found on social media, have been a sanity-saving lifeline for many of his tens of thousands of followers on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Watching him dance in the snow at his cabin near Whitehorse, Yukon, is a shot of pure joy.
"On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID to be a global pandemic and that day I wrote on that board (pointing to one hanging on his wall) that I would make one video every single day to spread smiles, joy, and positivity to calm down people's worries and anxieties," Pandher says. "I initially thought that COVID was going to last a few weeks, maybe a month; I didn't realize that I was making a two year long (plus) commitment."
Bhangra is a traditional Punjabi folk dance that farmers still dance to celebrate the wheat harvest. The moves are a highly stylized depiction of dropping seed into the soil and raising a sickle to harvest it. Other times dancers sway like wheat swaying in the wind.
Love of the North. Pandher brought his love of the dance with him when he immigrated to Canada from his native Pumjab in 2006. He wound up in the Yukon almost by accident. He'd only planned to come up for a short trip, but he fell in love with the North's people, its awe-inspiring natural beauty and stayed. He even came to embrace its cold, dark winters.
His social media career started by chance too. He was invited to dance as part of Whitehorse's Canada Day celebrations in 2016. He posted a video of it on his Facebook page when he got home. By the next morning people were watching it all around the world. The response was a wakeup call of the power of the medium.
Pandher had started to build a following before COVID but his numbers really surged since the start of the pandemic. Many across Canada, the U.S. and around the world, find his videos to be a delightful way to cope with the pervasive grumpiness in society. They aren't hesitant about thanking him and don't restrict themselves to comments on his social media posts either.
"I started getting many letters (including handwritten ones) and I've a wall in my cabin filled with art people made and sent to me in appreciation for the joy I've created with my videos," Pandher says. "Many talk about the positive impact they've had on their mental health and in their lives. Some people even wrote that they survived the pandemic by watching my videos."
In turn, the volume of letters, and the positive response to his videos have left him humbled and amazed. They've helped him stay motivated as the pandemic dragged on. They're also a reminder that it's important to try to find joy in your life.
"The reactions that my videos generate have led me to see that joy has a deeper meaning," Pandher says. "You can go out for a night of dancing in a bar and have fun. Joy is not just entertainment; it's healing, more like therapy."
Pandher isn't quite sure why his videos have become so popular and important to so many viewers. He suspects that it comes down to three or four main reasons. One may have to do with the novelty of seeing someone dance a traditional Punjabi dance in a Yukon setting, and the fact that these showcase the beauty of nature in the North that initially drew him to the Yukon. But also, each video offers nuggets of positivity, a short positive healing message, tied together with a sprinkle of optimism.
One letter-writing fan said it best—"In a world where there is so much sadness and negativity, the world needs more Gurdeeps! Please keep doing what you are doing."
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