Members of the Shan-e-Punjab bhangra dance troupe pose at the University of Victoria’s Farquhar Auditorium before the group’s annual show. This year’s Vaisakhi celebration and 25th anniversary show happens there May 5. Photo contributed

Victoria dance school promoting Punjabi culture through bhangra

Dancers of all ages will mark Shan-e-Punjab’s 25th anniversary with Vaisakhi show May 5 at UVic

It’s a busy Sunday at the Shan-E-Punjab dance studios in Quadra Village.

Students are trying on traditional ethnic dresses and doing final run-throughs of dance routines in advance of the May 5 performance at UVic celebrating Vaisakhi, the Indian celebration of Khalsa and the spring harvest.

“You want to represent the culture in every which way possible, not just through the music, but through your presentation,” says the school’s co-founder, Sonia Grewal. “It’s important to keep that heritage alive, that’s what we’re trying to do.”

When she stops to consider the stream of young people who have learned bhangra dance from herself and others over the past 25 years – a rare pause, as Grewal doesn’t stop for long – she puts things into perspective.

“I’m not the kind of person to count numbers, it’s just in front of you,” she says of the quarter century of promoting Punjabi culture. “Students come to the school and they want to learn, and if that continues we continue; it’s a need and a want. We’ve just taken that initiative for many years to fulfill that culture.”

Officially known as Shan-e-Punjab Dance, Performing Arts and Heritage School, the organization not only teaches traditional dance, it offers Punjabi language training as a way to further keep the culture alive.

The group began in 1994 with about 13 dancers and within a few years jumped to 65 or 70. As the variety of programs within the school has grown – in response to students’ desire to learn new things – so have its numbers, Grewal says.

This Saturday’s show at the Farquhar Auditorium, “25 Years and Vaisakhi,” will involve nearly 200 dancers, including a relatively new bhangra group from Mount Douglas secondary.

Many dancers have gone on to become teachers here, a testament to the school’s family atmosphere and the fact Shan-E-Punjab has become part of the fabric of the Indo-Canadian community in Greater Victoria.

Priya Sandhu has danced here eight years and formerly taught young students. She remembers not liking dancing growing up, but as she kept at it, she says, “I started to really like the culture because I felt more involved when I went to weddings and receptions. Dancing is a really big part of our culture, and I get to learn it here in Victoria … I’m glad I did stick [with] it.”

Tejpreet Mand is in her second year dancing here but has already picked up the teaching torch, guiding three to five year olds in the Little Bhangra Stars program.

“Shan-E-Punjab’s amazing,” she says. “Everyone here is loving and so supportive of you, so even if it’s your first year and you’re nervous you don’t have to be because they’re so encouraging.”

Rena Bindra joined the recreational adult team this year, after watching her young daughter and son get involved last year. Having grown up in Abbotsford, a larger Indian community with numerous cultural opportunities, she appreciates having this music and cultural outlet for her children.

While a higher number of the dancers involved with the school are girls, there’s plenty of opportunity for boys to come and learn and enjoy the dance, says Harsh Sanghera, who’s been dancing with the troupe for 10 years.

Having joined when he was just four, he now dances with two boys groups and the exciting co-ed youth team Vic City Bhangra. Over the years he’s learned a lot about keeping Punjabi culture alive among local youth.

“In order to do this dance you should know a little bit about your culture, you can’t just join and not know anything,” he says. He enjoys being able to take a more active role at cultural events such as weddings. “It’s really fun, you can showcase what you’ve done … and it’s a great way to show it off.”

Fellow boys group members Hirsh Bhatti, a seven-year dancer with the school, and Manav Sherjill, who joined last year, say dancing together is a great way to build lasting friendships and work together toward a common goal.

Bhangra dance is a huge part of Indian culture, not only for the celebratory and entertainment purposes, but for exercise and social reasons, says Bob Parihar, whose daughter has danced at the school the past two years.

“If you don’t say anything to kids, they just want to watch their cellphone or laptop or a computer, they want to spends hours and hours and they have no time to do other activities,” he says. “So I think just to get out of the house and do some activities, why not dance? At the same time we promote the culture, as well as it’s good to get together and know the community.”

Saturday’s performance starts at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $13 for adults, $10 for seniors and $8 for students, available online at tickets.uvic.ca.

editor@vicnews.com

 

Teachers from the Shan-e-Punjab school gather for a photo. Many began dancing at the school at a very young age. Photo courtesy shan-e-punjab.ca

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