Gurdeep Pandher at home with a quilt made by Beth Norris of Wheelock
Vermonters who follow the positivity teachings of Gurdeep Pandher, a Punjabi author and performer who lives in Canada’s Yukon territory, saw their worlds collide in February. That's when Pandher, who has 200,000 Twitter followers, posted a video featuring a quilt sent to him by a fan from the tiny Northeast Kingdom town of Wheelock.
Since 2016, Pandher has amassed a massive online following by posting videos of himself dancing bhangra, a traditional folk dance that originated in the northwestern Indian state of Punjab. When COVID-19 hit, he started sharing a new clip each day. The sight of the colorfully attired Pandher performing the dance on frozen landscapes has resonated deeply with people who've been hunkered down in the gloom of the pandemic, searching for reasons to be joyful.
One is Beth Norris, a quilter and music scholar from Wheelock who served for many years as chair of Lyndon State College’s Department of Music Business and Industry.
Norris, who has endured a painful family disruption
while also coping with the pandemic, has found comfort in Pandher’s short videos, which celebrate life through music, social connection, and bhangra.
“There’s something very uplifting about the way he shares his music,” said Norris, a pianist and classically trained opera singer who retired from Lyndon State — now Northern Vermont University — in 2016. “And it’s so much fun to watch.”
One of Norris’ favorite clips shows Pandher dancing to a background of honking swans. Pandher, who films outdoors in all weather, shows himself teaching bhangra dancing to all manner of Canadians, including soldiers at a firefighting base and children in their snowsuits. He also dances to music from other cultures, such as Ireland and Scotland.
“He connects himself to nature and to other people around the world,” Norris said.
Pandher teaches positivity along with dancing, exhorting his viewers to let themselves experience all emotions, including sadness, and to use dance, nature and other grounding experiences to restore balance.
"Joy does not mean that you fully disconnect from other vital emotions, such as being reflective or feeling sad," he says on his website
. "It means that joy is your home, and other emotions are places to visit. After visiting, come back to your home to calm your anxieties!"
When he received his COVID-19 vaccine last year, Pandher let his Twitter followers know right away.
“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 well-being,” he said that day.
Pandher has collected nearly 200,000 Twitter followers, handmade gifts from as far as Australia and accolades from media figures such as Rachel Maddow, who featured a Pandher video on her MSNBC show in November.
“Honestly, it makes me feel better already,” Maddow said.
On February 23, Pandher tweeted a video
of himself in a snowy white landscape.
“I received a box from Wheelock, which is a city in Vermont state in the U.S.,” Pandher said, wrapping the blue and orange quilt around his shoulders as he stood outside a cabin.
He read part of Norris’ letter.
“I watch your videos almost every day and have found in your bhangra the incentive to carry on,” Norris wrote. “You always put a smile on my face and joy in my heart. Sometimes life’s challenges can be very difficult to bear, but you have helped me so many times.”
Norris finds it hard to explain what moved her to mail Pandher one of her creations. She based the design on the color of his turban — orange — and on the blues he likes to wear.
“I just needed to,” she said. “I know that sounds crazy, but in my heart, I knew it was the right thing to do.”