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It’s Power Bhangra! How to energize Montrealers through Indian dance

JMSB grad Harshjot Singh Nijher and his local troupe unite people of all backgrounds
May 2, 2019
By Ursula Leonowicz

Power Bhangra “To understand how people from different cultures act, and how things can have different meanings, that’s something I learned from Concordia because I had friends from every corner of the world there,” says Harshjot Singh Nijher.

A festive Indian dance originally performed by farmers to celebrate a good harvest, Bhangra is to Punjab what the Floss — or Macarena — has become to North America, only better.

Alum Harshjot Singh Nijher, MSc (management) 14, is a Microsoft-certified customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning consultant who works at XRM Vision. He has worked at the International Civil Aviation Organization and N SPRO. In addition to his John Molson School of Business (JMSB) degree he holds a bachelor’s degree in technology with a specialization in electrical, electronics and communications engineering from India’s Guru Nanak Dev University.

He started Power Bhangra, a group that now includes more than 20 dancers from Concordia, McGill, l’Université de Montréal and beyond, to share his culture — and love of dance — with Montrealers of all backgrounds.

Fellow Concordians in Power Bhangra are Gurpreet Singh, MEng 18, Onkarjot Singh Mangat, MEng 18, engineering graduate students Yashleen Kaur Virk and Akriti Saini, and undergrad Nikita Narang.

How did Power Bhangra get started?

Harshjot Singh Nijher: I used to run another small dance group that posted a video where we were wearing Habs jerseys that went viral in 2018. My wife and I then started Power Bhangra.

The part of India where I come from — Punjab, which is a province in the North — is known for Bhangra, the folk dance of the region. Since I was a kid, I was into singing and Bhangra, and even took part in competitions. Once I came here, it stayed with me, that passion. It really gives me a lot of happiness and satisfaction.

I organized two flash mobs at JMSB, in 2013 and 2014. The first one was to bring more awareness to the program — we had T-shirts printed with the MSc logo and everything. Six months later, for the JMGSA [John Molson Graduate Students' Association], we did a fun flash mob with all classic songs. Both were performed in the JMSB lobby.

January 20 2019: Power Bhangra dance in front of the Hall building despite the snow and -32°C temperature!

What was your experience at Concordia like?

HSN: I moved to Montreal in August 2012, and the first four months were a little tough. In India, if you’re brand new, people will just automatically come to you and make conversation. Here, I think it’s the opposite: if you initiate a conversation people are super nice, but I was used to people reaching out, so at first I didn’t make an effort. Then I joined the JMGSA, met lots of new people and realized that I needed to make the first move.

How did your Concordia experience contribute to what you’re doing now?

HSN: I was an engineer, so coming into the program was a little tough for me, but the professors at Concordia helped me and, at the end, I was able to write a thesis that led to having papers published.

If I hadn’t gone to Concordia, I wouldn’t have known how to approach people, and that helped me a lot. If I had come directly from India and started working, things would have been different: I would have had to do a lot of learning the hard way. To understand how people from different cultures act, and how things can have different meanings, that’s something I learned from Concordia because I had friends from every corner of the world there.

Of course, I’m also using the analytical skills I got from my education in my current job, especially courses like change management.

Where can we see Power Bhangra perform next?

HSN: We recently performed at Indian wedding show called Montreal Shaadi and at the Jewish General Hospital, in support of mental health, because the whole point isn’t just to dance, but to dance with a purpose. We’re also performing at Just for Laughs, in the opening and closing acts, this summer.

We also offer fitness classes twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Ninety-five per cent of participants aren’t Indian and it’s so nice to see how happy it makes them. The classes are given at Studio Bizz on Mont-Royal Ave in Montreal.

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