The Rhythms of Bhangra – People, Community, and Nation


October 20 & 21, 2023

Reliance Theatre, Emily Carr University of Art and Design

a dynamic exchange of ideas, performances, poetry, and film delving into the captivating world of Bhangra

The Portrait Gallery of Canada’s two-day national conversation on Bhangra will be a captivating exploration of Bhangra dance, showcasing its historical significance and unifying power. 

Insights from Punjabi literary figures, historians, and writers highlight the dance’s rich tapestry of connections, celebrating heritage, symbolizing agricultural life, forging community bonds, and preserving traditions. The program delves into dance’s profound impact as a catalyst for transformation in pluralistic societies, fostering intercultural dialogue, mutual respect, and appreciation for diverse cultural expressions. Discussions will also touch on how Bhangra addresses critical issues such as climate change, social change, activism, and advocacy in contemporary times. 

Part of Portrait Gallery of Canada online exhibition Gurdeep Pandher: Portail vers la joie.

Participants include: 

Paul Binning, community leader and Bhangra pioneer

Ajmer Rode, poet, playwright and translator

Tarun Nayar, Executive director of 5X Fest and co-founder of band Delhi 2 Dublin

Gurpreet Sain, Educator, Broadcaster-Hockey Night in Canada: Punjabi Edition, Co-founder
Monsoon Festival of Performing Arts

Mo Dhaliwal, founder of the Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration Society

Phinder Dulai, writer, poet and editor

Satwinder Kaur Bains, expert in Punjabi cultural historiographies, School of Culture, Media
and Society at the University of the Fraser Valley

Viviane Gosselin, Director of Collections & Exhibitions, Curator of Contemporary Culture,
Museum of Vancouver

Dr. Allana C. Lindgren, Dean, Faculty of Fine Arts at University of Victoria, dance historian and

Anne Murphy, UBC cultural historian, with research in Punjab and the Punjabi Diaspora

Dr. Celeste Nazeli Snowber, PhD, dancer, poet, writer and award-winning educator

Gurdeep Pandher, Yukon-based author, teacher and Bhangra performer

Fauzia Rafique, South Asian Canadian poet and fiction author

Sirish Rao, Director of Public Programming, Vancouver Art Gallery

Sameena Siddiqui, Associate Curator at Surrey Art Gallery

Roger Sinha, Choreographer and dancer

Craig Berggold, media artist and scholar, Queen’s University

Narendra Pachkhédé, writer, critic and Curator of Gurdeep Pandher: A portal to joy.



4:00PM – OPENING: Welcome & Opening Remarks 
4:25PM – FILM SCREENING: Bhangra City (Shiraz Higgins, Dir., 2017, 32 min.)

Bubbling under the surface of Vancouver’s expensive real estate is a vibrant Punjabi music scene. Bhangra City addresses the factors that keep this scene  hidden and the broader lack of diversity in North America.
5:00PM – PANEL DISCUSSION: Dance, Land and its community 
Panelists: Phinder Dulai [Moderator], Ajmer Rode, Satwinder Bains, Mo Dhaliwal

Bhangra’s relationship with dance, land, and its community is multifaceted. It is a celebration of cultural heritage, a representation of agricultural life and the changing seasons, a means of community bonding and identity expression, and a way to preserve traditions across generations. In the context of diaspora, a means to assert the community’s presence and voice, Bhangra takes on new meanings. The dance form continues to evolve and adapt, reflecting the dynamic relationship between people, their land, and their cultural heritage.
5:45PM – BREAK
5:45PM – DISCUSSION: Where are we now?

A Conversation between Tarun Nayyar + Gurpreet Sian
6:30PM – PANEL DISCUSSION: Dance and Us
Panelists: Lee Su-Feh [Moderator], Dr. Allana C. Lindgren, Dr. Celeste Snowber, Roger Sinha

This discussion aims to deepen our understanding of the role of dance as a dynamic and transformative force in pluralistic societies, contributing to intercultural dialogue and fostering mutual respect and appreciation for diverse cultural expressions. The panel will aim to situate an understanding of how dance relates to addressing climate change, social change, activism, and advocacy in pluralistic societies as well as examine the ways in which different dance traditions and styles interact, blend, and influence one another.


1:10PM – FILM SCREENING: I’m British But . . . (Gurinder Chadha, Dir., 1990, 30 mins)

I’m British but… uncovers a defiant popular culture, part Asian, part British, against a backdrop of fading English nationalism. The rhythms of Bhangra and Bangla music set the pace for this lively collage of interviews with British Asian youth. Mixing archival footage with present day street scenes of Asians in England, this film chronicles the role of race and cultural identity in the formation of modern-day British society. I’m British but… is an engaging critique of nationalisms of any sort and a celebration of cultural diversity and hybridity.
1:45PM – PANEL DISCUSSION: Configurations in Movement: Bhangra and its new meanings
Panelists: Sirish Rao [Moderator], Paul Binning, Anne Murphy, Vivine Gosselin

This conversation explores how Bhangra as a dance form continues to evolve and adapt, reflecting the dynamic relationship between people, their land, and their cultural heritage. Bhangra has spread beyond the borders of Punjab and has become popular among South Asian diaspora communities worldwide. In the context of diaspora, Bhangra takes on new meanings, becoming a way for communities to maintain connections with their cultural roots and to create a sense of belonging in their adopted homelands.
2:30PM – BREAK
2:40PM – FILM SCREENING: A Time to Rise (Anand Patwardhan & Jim Monro, Dir. 1982, 39 min.)

On April 6, 1980, the Canadian Farmworkers Union came into existence. This film documents the conditions among Chinese and East Indian immigrant workers in British Columbia that provoked the formation of the union, and the response of growers and labour contractors to the threat of unionization. Made over a period of two years, the film is eloquent testimony to the progress of the workers’ movement from the first stirrings of militancy to the energetic canvassing of union members.
3:30PM – PANEL DISCUSSION: Dancing Resilience: Bhangra and labour movement
Panelists: Sameena Siddiqui & Craig Berggold

Bhangra is not just a dance form; it is a communal activity that brings people together. Bhangra becomes a tool for advocacy and a means to assert the community’s presence and voice. This panel in exploring the historic making of the Canadian Farm Workers’ Union, looks at Bhangra as a form of socio-political expression. It has been employed to address issues faced by the community, express cultural pride, and challenge stereotypes. 
4:30PM – BREAK
4:40PM – PERFORMANCE/DISCUSSION: It’s about Time: A performative dialogue
Participants: Roger Sinha, Fauzia Rafique

An enchanting exchange of artistic expressions that transcend words and movements. In this unique collaboration, the dancer’s movements intertwine with the poet’s evocative words, creating a seamless fusion of rhythm and emotion; inviting the audience on an immersive journey into the depths of human expression that leaves a lasting impact on all who witness this enchanting performative dialogue.
5:20PM – FINALE: Gurdeep Pandher video screening