Gurdeep Pandher of the Yukon collaborates with AGO’s virtual school program

In addition to being an author and YouTube performer, Pandher also has a background in teaching. This October, he combines all of these epithets to bring his message of the joy of movement to the Art Gallery of Ontario’s free virtual school program.

You may know Gurdeep Pandher, who adds the suffix “of the Yukon” to his name, from his videos teaching Canadians the Punjabi dance form Bhangra, which went viral during the pandemic.

In addition to being an author and YouTube performer, Pandher also has a background in teaching. This October, he combines all of these epithets to bring his message of the joy of movement to the Art Gallery of Ontario’s free virtual school program.

“There will be mentions about the history of bhangra, Punjabi culture and also how to dance bhangra… and of course joy, hope and positivity,” says Pandher CityNews.

Pandher will be hosting four virtual sessions that will be streamed live nationwide as part of a series in the virtual school program called Art Beyond Borders. Sessions begin on October 20th and take place on Thursdays.

He says he wants to bring a dose of positivity and inclusivity to the students who tune in.

“My first approach was to create joy in the education system. I feel like our kids – they need more positivity, more joy in their classrooms. I also want them to learn about other cultures,” he says. “This could be a window to open many other windows. Because we live in a multicultural country, which is great – but we don’t get enough opportunities to learn about other cultures.”

Pandher says the feedback he’s received on his videos has encouraged him to continue spreading his positive message, and he’s excited to bring this to classrooms across the country via the AGO.

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“I started promoting bhangra more as a way to heal, a way to uplift, a way to stay in a moment,” he says.

“If you’re worried, you can ground yourself. When you feel like your world has collapsed, you can have some healing moments… I feel really, really wonderful [about] To teach these lessons to children through such a great facility,” he says.

In response to the pandemic, AGO’s virtual school program for students from JK to Grade 8 was launched in 2020. This year it’s expanding to reach more students from coast to coast, Monday through Friday, with four daily sessions to accommodate different time zones, beginning October 12.

The gallery has also set up a dedicated digital studio from where they run courses that, according to AGO’s Director of Learning and Engagement, exemplify their commitment to online programs.

“There’s a desire to be online in a community and we wanted to build that bridge to really show that it’s actually part of the work we do now, constantly, every day,” says Paola Poletto.

She explains that each live virtual school session lasts 30 minutes and engagement is a key component of the program.

“We ask our students questions and the students ask us a lot of questions and we can get thousands of questions in half an hour [through the live chat function]. That’s the energy we feel every day,” she says.

Each session is inspired by artworks from the AGO collection.

“There’s an art facilitator at AGO who introduces an artwork…if we’re talking about the environment, for example, it’s likely to be an artwork that thinks about an environment,” she explains. “Then there’s some artistry and so on, wellness. There’s a bit of pausing and meditation, so there’s really a kind of balance, a focus on learning and wellness in our approach.”

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Poletto says bringing Pandher on board is consistent with that approach, with a focus on the connections between art, joy and bhangra.

“He’s a sensational and inspiring character [who will make] those connections to wellness and community building and really celebrating ourselves. And that’s what we need now,” she says. “So it’s really about dance and the importance of dance as a creative exploration and connection with the visual arts, the AGO’s art collection – and thinking about how that looks for each individual. This is how we truly embody our art and our culture with such an amazing figure.”

Pandher is currently on a cross-country tour to personally share his message with Canadians.

“I’m carrying this message, which I’ve personally shared on social media to people everywhere in different communities – that we live in a complex world… we’re noticing that there’s a polarization of opinion online. Sometimes it feels like there are conflicts everywhere. So I try to deliver [the message] that we are together,” he says.

Pandher says people connect with his words, often telling him that “those kinds of memories work great for them.”

“[They say] ‘It’s like restoring my faith in humanity,'” he says.

Broadcasting from his home in the Yukon, Pandher wants the students he will engage with through the AGO to feel the same and hopes it will be a lifelong lesson.

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“We like to build a comfort zone where we like to stay in that comfort box and I will encourage them to just take a little step outside and just learn about different cultures, different communities, different people – so that they can benefit from it.” experience formative years that all cultures have, they have great values. They’re great people,” he says. “People may look a little different on the outside, but at heart they are the same people.”

Pandher believes that intercultural understanding is the key to a harmonious and peaceful society.

“It helps to bring harmony in the communities, harmony in the country, harmony in the world. It also leads to more positivity, because when we live in peace with neighbors and different communities, it naturally generates more joy,” he says.

The Art Beyond Borders series will also feature art educators from across the country in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Beginning November 17, representatives from The Rooms – a provincial archive, art gallery and museum – will co-chair four sessions highlighting the relationships between art, land and the environment.

In addition to virtual programming, personal excursions will again take place at AGO from September 27th.

For this school year members of the AGO’s Access program for teachers and their school classes can take self-guided tours through the gallery free of charge from Tuesday to Friday by prior arrangement.

Paid tours led by AGO’s art educators will also be available beginning October 12, along with artistic sessions teaching students various techniques and processes.

click here to learn more about AGO’s virtual and in-person educational programs.

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