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Kait Bolongaro

Vancouver: City of Bhangra

While once practiced solely by the South Asian community in Vancouver, Bhangra has become a cultural dance phenomenon that is now taking over the city.Since the new millennium, Bhangra has transitioned from being unknown outside the tight knit South Asian community, into the mainstream consciousness. From hip hop artists such as Missy Elliot sampling bhangra beats, to intense competitions hosting performers from all backgrounds; Vancouver is no exception to bhangra mania. Every May, the Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration takes place at locations around the city for one week. Performers come from around the world to share their talents through competitions, live shows, and workshops for bhangra enthusiasts.Bhangra began in the Punjab, a northwestern region of India, as a way for farmers to celebrate the beginning of the spring harvest season. The dancers writhe to the beat of the dhol, a large drum played with two sticks and carried by the player, and lyrics about social issues and relationships such as love, reflecting on the rich nature of Punjabi society. Male dancers wear a kufta, a long white cotton shirt, and a chaadra, a colourful piece of cloth wrapped around the waist. A pagadi, which is a special turban-like headpiece with a small fan called a turia attached, is worn especially for bhangra performances. Women wear a traditional salwar kameez, a colourful dress and pant suit found throughout South Asia.In the northern hemisphere, bhangra was first popularized in the 1980s after large-scale immigration from the Punjab to Britain.  However, the modern version is an artistic mélange, drawing influences from folk dances throughout the Punjab.North American bhangra mixes South Asian culture with urban pop and hip hop influences, creating a unique expression of Canadian and South Asian identities. By mixing samples of songs from popular hip hop artists with traditional instruments and Punjabi-language folk song lyrics, the final remixes capture… Read More

The Dark Side of Food

Although food is often understood simply as a necessity for survival, an individual’s relationship with it can be more complex than meets the eye.For many Canadians, the idea of a home-cooked meal is comforting. The different flavours and aromas conjure up positive memories, usually of childhood holidays spent with family and friends. However, for those who struggle with eating disorders, this image instead creates anxiety and fear. This fear usually hinges on how consuming food will alter how their body looks, or on the social pressure that surrounds public eating- fears that a person without disordered eating often simply cannot comprehend.There are four clinical eating disorders that are recognized as medical conditions: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder and eating disorders not otherwise specified (ED-NOS). This last category is vague, but reflects the true nature of the condition: each sufferer has his or her own distinct battle with food and it can be difficult to diagnose. This is further antagonized by the secrecy surrounding the disease in our families, society and media. According to the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC), 1.5 per cent of Canadian women and 0.3 per cent of adolescents (male and female) overall suffer with a diagnosable eating disorder, with roughly 90 per cent of sufferers being women. While these numbers may seem miniscule and gendered, many more adolescents and young adults feel social pressure to conform to the ‘ideal’ body stereotypes- the first step in developing an eating disorder.Eating disorders are serious psychological disorders stemming from a mixture of genetic predisposition, cultural/social environment, and internal and external pressure. Why, then, is this issue so often ignored? One clear reason is the old adage that only women struggle with body image issues; thus classifying eating disorders as a ‘women’s’ issue. However, social pressures also affect males,… Read More

La Dolce Vita

Every year, bustling crowds invade Vancouver’s Italian borough to celebrate Italian Day in June, and to get a taste of “La Dolce Vita” – the sweet life.On the first weekend in June, the annual Italian Day festival begins month-long celebrations of Italian culture. Commercial Drive, the historic heart of the Italian community in Vancouver, serves as host to the thousands of people who attend this event. There are performances, cultural associations, and, of course, food that highlight the Italian influence in the area. Italian Day is important because of the legacy of mistreatment faced by Italian immigrants in North America and because it promotes a positive view of Italian culture. Though generations of Italian-Canadians wander the Drive showing their patriotism, the crowd and the booths reflect Vancouver’s diversity, highlighting the merging of cultures on Commercial Drive itself.While an Italian, Crisoforo Colombo, is credited with being the first European to arrive in the Americas, as a whole, Italians haven’t always been welcomed to Canada or the United States. Italians began to arrive en masse to North America in the late 19th century, mostly to escape the poverty that embroiled Italy after its unification in 1861. Italian immigrants were subjected to racist ideologies that thrived due to huge anti-Catholic sentiment in both countries (which the Québécois were also victims of) and the popular social hierarchy that placed Jews, Italians, and the Irish at the bottom as non-Caucasian, which meant non Anglo-Saxon Protestant. This discrimination wasn’t only a 19th century phenomena. Like the Japanese-Canadians, Italian-Canadians were interned during World War II and deemed enemies of the state. They were also told not to speak their native tongue as it was the “enemy’s” language, which led to a significant decrease in Italian speakers within the community. Today, there is the continued stereotyping of Italians as gangsters or Jersey… Read More

Yoga: Spiritual Practice or Intense Workout?

In the past decade, yoga has become so commercialized in North America that it is almost unrecognizable from its original form.North Americans are continually trying new exercise regimes and diets to lose weight. While it’s admirable to be concerned about health, this becomes problematic when an ancient religious tradition has become the new ticket to ultimate weight loss. Yoga, a millennia old Hindu and Buddhist spiritual practice, is at risk of becoming another of these fads. Currently, many North Americans are flooding into yoga classes with expensive mats and unnecessary attire trying to lose those last few inches.While it is unknown when exactly yoga as a form of meditation began, there is evidence of its existence as much as 5000 years ago in the Indus Valley in Punjab region of India. Classical yoga began about 2500 years ago by early Hindus and Buddhists. It was a system of contemplation and meditation meant to unite the human spirit with the Supreme Being, known as Ishvara. There are many different veins of yoga, but the one most popular in North America is hatha yoga and itsasanas -postures- have become the foundation of the yoga exercise movement.I should mention that I am not critical of all North Americans who do yoga. Not only because I practice it, but some regular practitioners have found spiritual enlightenment or inner peace through a daily yoga session. In fact, yoga does have many health benefits and can ease the suffering of many medical conditions. What is problematic about anyone’s participation in any holy practice is the individual’s motivation. If one wants to lose weight and holds no regard for the spirituality involved in yoga, than they are undermining it and practically committing cultural appropriation.Many yogis – regular adherents- do have a slender physique because of yoga, but also because of… Read More

From the culture editor’s desk: the ten-year-old supermodel

When provocative images of ten-year-old French model Thylane Blondeau were published in French Vogue, there was an internet backlash that raised the question: “is the media sexualizing children?”In the past thirty years, the average modeling age has been steadily decreasing. Long removed from the young twentysomething women of the 1970s, most models now start at the age of 14. Although designers have been using young teenagers as models for about two decades, pre-pubescent children weren’t featured in women’s magazine spreads until now.The most recent controversy involves Blondeau, a French model who has posed for numerous fashion companies and magazines. Some fans have said French Vogue’s latest fashion shoot is edgy and youthful. However, it looks more like a pedophile’s dream to me, with Blondeau posing on a leopard print lounge chair in gold stilettos, heavy makeup, and a low-cut dress, staring steamily into the camera.While she’s certainly beautiful, this is clearly the overt sexualization of a young girl. These images portray the sad reality of many kids’ lives in the twenty-first century. Good old-fashioned play has virtually disappeared as children are carrying the latest technology and worrying about looking fashionable and sexy. Childhood has become but a blip in their life lived in a rush to grow up. This will have unforeseeable effects on their development into adults; the alarming rise of eating disorders is only one side effect that’s becoming worrisome.Another issue is that French Vogue even found it acceptable to publish these photographs. Our culture has developed an unhealthy obsession with youth—from plastic surgery to expensive cosmetics, the anti-aging industry is booming. It’s bad enough that 40-year old women dream of looking like teenagers, let alone children. When children like Blondeau become fashion icons, they become the norm for beauty in a society. This is dangerous because their… Read More
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