Last year, Gurdeep Pandher was featured on YouTube billboards nationwide with a simple but very true message: “Taught people to dance. Moved the whole country.”
Originally from Punjab, India, Pandher has called Canada home since 2006 and now lives just outside of Whitehorse in a small cabin without running water in the Yukon wilderness. A man of many talents, he’s a published author and poet, and has worked as an IT professional, school teacher, dance instructor and more. But he’s best known for his viral videos of bhangra dancing – which have racked up well over 50 million views turning him into a social media sensation.
Bhangra is an energetic folk dance from the Punjab region. Pandher has been doing bhangra for as long as he can remember and in his late teens took professional classes to dive deeper into the dance. Several years ago, he began filming and posting videos of himself doing bhangra in different beautiful scenic areas in the Yukon.
“I just started posting my videos to show them to my local friends here in the Yukon,” Pandher said. “I didn’t have any other motivation. But I noticed that a lot more people were actually watching not only from the Yukon, but from across the country and beyond. And that became quite an inspiration to me.”
On March 11, 2020 – the day that the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic – Pandher made the decision to start posting daily bhangra videos as a way to share optimism and joy. This wasn’t always easy to do. Like all of us, he faced his own challenges throughout the pandemic. Not to mention that his videos are shot outdoors and winter temperatures in the Yukon can drop below -40°C.
Yesterday evening I received my Covid-19 vaccine. Then I went to a frozen lake to dance Bhangra on it for joy, hope and positivity, which I’m forwarding across Canada and beyond for everyone’s health and wellbeing. pic.twitter.com/8BS0N7zVZK
— Gurdeep Pandher of the Yukon (@GurdeepPandher) March 2, 2021
In a time of global social isolation, his videos struck a chord with people throughout Canada and in other parts of the world. The daily messages of gratitude he received from people responding to the uplifting energy he radiated pushed him to keep creating content.
“I like to use this analogy that if there’s a lot of darkness, we need light. If we are hungry, we need food. If we are thirsty, we need water. And in a similar way, when there’s a lot of sadness, we need joy, we need positivity.”
As his popularity increased, he looked for more ways to leverage his growing platform to help others and keep people connected. He began offering online bhangra classes by donation to make them accessible to everyone and gave 25 per cent of the proceeds to COVID-19-related causes.
Pandher’s work has been used and shared by notable individuals and organizations including the Prime Minister, the Governor-General, the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP and major news networks across the world. Last year, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society awarded him for the national impact he made by bridging cross-cultural divides, spreading optimism and promoting inclusivity during the pandemic.
Through his dancing and videos, Pandher has learned that he can not only spread joy but also break down cultural barriers. The practice of love all, accept all is something we definitely agree with.
“We are living in the world where there’s a polarization of ideas,” he said. “It is creating fears, closing minds and hearts. But when this sharing and learning happens, people open up and they try to connect with others. They start to understand that other people are similar to them. Their hopes, their smiles, their dreams, even their fears are the same.
“By sharing knowledge and culture, people can become closer to each other. It builds many cross-cultural bridges and reduces those divides. It brings more happiness to the world.”
Coming out of the pandemic, Pandher feels it’s still necessary to spread joy and positivity. The modern world is obviously an amazing place and technology has benefitted us in countless ways. But despite all of the advancements we’ve made, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s truly important.
“We are living such a busy life and during that busyness, we actually forget about happiness. It’s important to remind people, ‘Hey, this is important too. Don’t forget,’ It’s a simple reminder, but it is very effective.
“We know that the destiny of all of us is the same. It doesn’t matter if you are an accomplished professional or if you are just living an ordinary, simple life. One day we’ll have to go. Are we going to leave this world after living an empty life or a happy and fulfilled life?”
Before finishing our interview with Pandher, we wanted to talk with him a bit about insurance. Many of his videos involve him dancing outside on the snow and ice in the Yukon. Is this something his insurance company has ever inquired about?
“This is an interesting question and it’s never been asked before,” he said with a laugh. “My focus has been more on my creativity and I have actually never thought about the insurance side of my work when I’m sitting or dancing on the ice or a frozen lake. Maybe at some later stage, I will have a better answer. But so far I’m happy with the way my setup is working for me.”
Want to learn more about Gurdeep Pandher? You can check out his website here.