Rooted in Dance: How One Intern Stays With Her Culture


by Emily Dawson

Gurpreet Sandhu pictured in formal indian attire on the campus of James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va

When Gurpreet Sandhu left home to start her freshman year at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., she had no idea that she was beginning a journey to reconnect with her family’s culture.

Gurpreet, an intern with Human Resources in Richmond, had her eyes set on JMU since her 7th grade math teacher told her about the university’s wonderful Bhangra dance team. Gurpreet was born in Punjab, India, where the dance form of Bhangra originated. Bhangra consists of several elements that pay homage to Punjab, including Punjab’s deep farming roots. The dance is performed with tools that are very similar to the tools that farmers use.

Gurpreet was familiar with Bhangra because within Punjabi culture, people informally dance Bhangra at weddings and other festivities. Gurpreet came to America when she was nine-months-old; she has realized that it’s been hard to stay connected to her culture without physically being there.

Going off to college can be difficult because you’re leaving home for the first time. Gurpreet endured the same struggles of most college students; however, she faced the added obstacle of trying to stay connected with the Punjabi culture without being with her family. Joining the Bhangra team brought Gurpreet a sense of belonging in college and a sense of cultural involvement. She highly values keeping her culture alive within herself and Bhangra allows her to do so.

JMU has a competitive Bhangra team as well as a team made up of members who dance just for the fun of it. The competition team starts in the spring, which makes it easier for members to begin and learn Bhangra because they have an entire semester without any pressure.

Gurpreet remarked, “I never really knew the formal way of dancing Bhangra and the JMU team makes it easy for beginners to learn.” Gurpreet was able to catch on quickly and by the spring she had joined the competition team. Doing Bhangra is not only a way for Gurpreet to feel connected to her culture but it has also connected her to most of her friends in college.

Being part of the Bhangra team has truly made my college experience so far,” remarked Gurpreet. Who knew that being away from your family and home would bring you closer to your culture? Gurpreet plans to continue Bhangra at JMU and is looking forward to delving deeper in to Punjabi culture.

Gurpreet is gathered with her parents and siblings to celebrate her high school graduation at the Clarion Hotel
The James Madison University Bhangra team is pictured at the Richmond Punjabi Mele in front of the Main Street Station in Richmond, Va.

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Emily Dawson, Employee Communications intern.