Shan-e-Punjab Dance school mixes cultures

Dance students are busy preparing for the annual Youth Showcase, in honour of the Sikh harvest festival.

(Front) Trista Dahmi

Sonia Grewal arrived in Canada as a baby in 1970, so her connection to her Indian roots came partly through rented Bollywood films.

“My mother, to keep me busy and out of trouble, she’d turn on the (VCR),” Grewal said. She fell in love with the genre, and danced along.

But as a Canadian girl, she also followed Western pop culture.

In elementary school, she started a dance group.

“It was just the four of us and we’d go around at recess doing these little dances to Shaun Cassidy’s music,” she said. “As much as I loved Bollywood, I think I just picked up beats. … At that age, any music that comes your way, you’re able to move with it.”

The foursome called their troupe Sha Na Na.

“How was I to know later on I’d have a (dance) school called Shan-e-Punjab?” she asked.

While her school’s name sounds like the nonsense syllables from her childhood dance group, the meaning is quite different.

Shan-e-Punjab means “to bring honour to the Punjabi culture,” she said.

These days, dance students are busy preparing for the annual Youth Showcase, in honour of the Sikh harvest festival. The school, started in 1996, teaches traditional dances from the Sikh region of Northern India, but also what’s popular today.

“If the popular thing right now is Bhangra, then that’s what we’ll mainly focus on,” Grewal said. That includes mixes with Top 40.

“One year we had Michael Jackson,” she said. “That piece was contributed to us by a girl who has been with us for over 16 years … and she’s a third- or fourth-generation Indo-Canadian. … You’ve got perspectives from everyone.”

Today, Grewal has lost her family connection to her homeland.

“There’s no elder aunts, anybody there.”

But keeping her culture alive through her dance school keeps her going.

“Everybody needs that feeling of engagement. Who am I, where do I come from?” she said. “For me, I think I’m a stronger person because of it. … For me, it’s like my oxygen.”

Mark your calendar:

The Shan-e-Punjab Dance, Performing Arts and Heritage School puts on its annual Youth Cultural Showcase on April 29. It takes place at 3 p.m. at the University of Victoria Farquhar Auditorium. Tickets $12 for adults and $7 for students. For more information, email Shan.e.Punjab1993@gmail.com.