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Bhangra dancer looks to bring message of hope to B.C. during COVID-19

VICTORIA — Gurdeep Pandher has danced bhangra with firefighters, in front of a lighthouse and has even done so while wearing a wetsuit and holding a surfboard during a visit to Vancouver Island.

VICTORIA — Gurdeep Pandher has danced bhangra with firefighters, in front of a lighthouse and has even done so while wearing a wetsuit and holding a surfboard during a visit to Vancouver Island.

Pandher, who lives near Whitehorse, has been dancing and travelling his way across Vancouver Island over the past week trying to spread a message of positivity during COVID-19.

"(The pandemic) created a lot of pressure and stresses. Some people are sharing it, some people are not, but everybody is feeling it ... I'd like to say be happy, be hopeful, even though it's hard," Pandher said in an interview.

He rose to fame with a series of viral videos showcasing his bhangra skills, dancing alongside members of the Canadian Armed Forces, local politicians and first responders.

Bhangra is a lively form of dance to music, originating from the Punjab region in India and characterized by leaps, kicks and arm movement.

"Bhangra has a lot of elements of positivity and happiness, and it's very high-energy," Pandher said. "It's a workout dance, it's a happy dance, it brings people together."

Pandher has been practising bhangra most of his life, punctuated by small breaks every now and then, but he's recently turned it into a full-time job, teaching it online to help those feeling cooped up due to the pandemic.

"Many professionals, doctors, high commissioners, politicians, they were taking these classes. I was quite touched," he said.

Yukon imposed COVID-19 border restrictions when the pandemic first hit, but opened its border to B.C. in July, prompting a vacation idea from Pandher.

"Vancouver Island is kind of like the Yukon. It's known for its wilderness, its natural beauty, the people and also the great thing is that both areas are remote," he said, clarifying that while not as remote as Yukon, Vancouver Island still had an ocean separating it from its mainland neighbours.

That separation was part of the reason for the holiday choice, as Pandher believes it helps protect it from COVID-19 outbreaks.

It's not the dance instructor's first visit to the island.

He previously visited the Canadian Armed Forces base in Esquimalt, leading 15 members in a bhangra session.

He said he's been stopped and visited by fans during this most recent trip, with a particular highlight being a visit and dance session with firefighters in Nanaimo and an attempt to surf at Tofino.

"It's just like dancing bhangra," Pander said of surfing. "In bhangra you need to co-ordinate a lot of movements to put it together — same with surfing: balance, co-ordination — and just being on the beach and in the water was awesome."

Pandher is scheduled to leave B.C. on Sunday but hopes to come back again in the future.

— By Nick Wells in Vancouver.

This report was first published by The Canadian Press on Aug. 16, 2020.

The Canadian Press