Chen Lizra Brings a Little 'Spice' to Vancouver

Published: May 27th 2010
in Culture » Art

Chen Lizra
Pic: Chen Lizra
Chen Lizra
Pic: Chen Lizra
Chen Lizra
Pic: Chen Lizra

Entrepreneur Chen Lizra once again pairs up with restaurateur Mona Chaaban of Mona's Fine Lebanese Cuisine to bring back spicy nights of Latin dance and Middle Eastern food to Vancouver.


The duo return with the all-ages celebration Arab Latin Fiesta offering a cultural fusion unlike any other in the city. The first event on May 14 was full, a sign that the event fills a void in the city, Lizra said. The two hosted the event for three years before going on hiatus in 2007 when Lizra returned to business school and subsequently launched her Cuban dance business Latidos Productions.    


“It's not just a coincidence that after three years we haven't done them that they were packed again and people said, 'Wow, we're coming back for the next one'. There is something very magical about the event,” said Lizra.  


Her goal is to get the events going again so that people can have an experience of cultural immersion that is really only found in larger metropolitans like New York, Lizra said.


“It's very hard to find in Vancouver nights where you actually enter a culture the way that culture is in its own country. There are maybe two or three cultures where you can do that but there's a lot of cultures where you cannot,” she said, citing Latin and Arab celebrations as underrepresented in Vancouver. 


The night features a set menu dinner, performances and dancing as well as a hookah smoking room at Mona's restaurant downtown Vancouver on Hornby Street. The next event is June 18.  


When conceptualizing the evening, Lizra and Chaaban created guidelines to help people attending understand the cultural setting and find their place within it.


“We create certain rules not to be rude but to allow for those cultures to exist the way they are and allow people to come into them. The majority of people coming are basically people from these cultures and they form that kind of attitude.”


The atmosphere Lizra works hard to maintain is one that is intergenerational and where everyone gets up to dance and join in relentless fun that lasts until the wee hours. 


“It's all about love, it's a little more aggressive, it's warm, it's family-oriented, you've got kids running around. You see grandma get up and dance with the belly dancer. It feels like you're in the Middle East. Mona is an incredible cook and she just brings Lebanon to you,” raves Lizra.


The Arab and Latin cultures compliment each other because of their similar dance styles, said Israeli-born Lizra whose Vancouver-based business offers courses in Latin dance classes as well as dance vacation tours to Cuba.


“You've got the music from all these cultures mixed and people just love it because people who love Latin dance love to shake it Arabic style and vice versa,” she said.


The next step for Lizra and Chaaban is to incorporate sponsorship into Arab Latin Fiesta nights so that they can make the event bigger to support bringing in more dancers from outside the city. 


Related articles: (Art, Restaurant, Latin Dance, Cuban, chen lizra)
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