Dance instructor nominated for YWCA award

Lizra started dance academy after Cuban trip

Chen Lizra wrote a travel guide in three months last year, faced bankruptcy twice, self-published My Seductive Cuba and secured a contract to have it distributed by Chapters Indigo.

Now she's been nominated for a YWCA Metro Vancouver Women of Distinction Award for the second time.

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Lizra's former publicist Sandra Garcia nominated Lizra, a Latin dance instructor, brand strategist and travel guide to Cuba in the arts, culture and design category in 2009.

This year she was championed by Latin dance student Polina Andriesh.

"She's a very strong person, very inspiring person, and she challenges herself and people around her to become better," said Andriesh, an interior designer and business owner. "She sees the door and she just goes through it. She just goes through it with no fear and knowing that she can deal with whatever's behind that door."

Lizra started her dance academy in 2005 after her first visit to Cuba. Lululemon Athletica selected her to be a brand ambassador soon after. She started guiding tours to Cuba in 2008 and after four years of blog writing, she wrote a travel guide to the country that stole her heart. The guide weaves personal stories with practical tips and QR codes that link to YouTube videos.

The Israeli-born Lizra, whose first language is Hebrew, has charted her path step by step.

"My biggest decisions in life have been in Buddhist retreats, where I clear my mind and all the fears dissolve and what is left is what is right for me," said Lizra, a resident of Mount Pleasant. "Usually that leads to a place where I am happy and I can give something away."

She also learned from her mother's mental illness.

"When she was in her manic phases, she could make anything happen," Lizra said. "Manic people, they just believe. They believe and because of that, they cause incredible things. Some of the most successful people in the world are manic-depressives. And because I grew up around her_ I realized at one point that all I have to do is believe."

She collected tens of thousands of dollars in loans from the bank, family and friends to self-publish her book. She suffered with a publicist Lizra says admitted she hadn't been doing her job and a web design company that told her the day after scheduled delivery that it lacked the skills to create what she wanted, but Lizra who graduated with distinction from Capilano College with a bachelor of business administration, kept going.

"For me there's no option to go bankrupt," Lizra said.

Despite meeting serious setbacks with her book last year, Lizra volunteered three months of her time to help producer Brent Belsher promote the National Ballet of Cuba's visit to Vancouver in February.

Lizra sees dance as a form of therapy and her prescription for dealing with tough times includes indulgence in family, friends and her "addictions."

"My addictions are dance, sushi, sea and sun and Israeli salad," Lizra said.

Results of the 2012 Women of Distinction Awards will be known Thursday, May 24 at the Westin Bayshore. Other nominees include Allyson Grant, founder and artistic director of the Jest for Joy Clown-Doctoring Foundation, Yael Cohen, founder and CEO of F Cancer and Katy Harandi, president and chair of the board for PALS Autism School Society.

For more information about the awards, see ywcavan.org.

Lizra will give a free talk at Travel Bug Books, 3065 West Broadway, at 7 p.m. on May 30 and she'll lead free dance workshops at the Carnaval del Sol on Granville Street, June 30.

crossi@vancourier.com

Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi

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