NADA Magazine

I look forward to my NADA magazine dropping through my door, along with the ATS magazine these are the only 2 real non digital publications I get regularly these days preferring instead the digital option. My theory is the virtual ones take less space to store and are generally less expensive. However you can't beat sinking into a warm bath with a new magazine, turning the pages taking in all the glossy loveliness of the photographs and there is something about the smell of shiny paper(or is that just me?)

I was happy to be invited as a regular Tribal voice in the NADA (National Arabic Dance Association) magazine a while ago. I have had two articles included so far and mulling around with ideas for the next one. In this current issue the article is entitled 'The Power of 5' and is a brief look at the hamsa, a symbol which has long fascinated me.

It is certainly worth looking at becoming a NADA member for a host of reasons. See their website for more information: They are also on Facebook.

Emma George
Hamsa - The power of 5

Talismans and symbols surround us even in our high tech 21st Century lives, their origins often forgotten or reinterpreted, date back to the earliest of human cultures. There is an innate need in many of us to seek order and the familiar amongst the unknown. These symbols can help to ground us and connect us back to a spiritual world.

In the belly dance world many dancers have been drawn to the ever popular and instantly recognisable symbol, known by many names, according to its cultural origin, including; the Hamsa (Khomsa), the Hand of Fatima, the Hand of Miriam, the hand of Tanit and the hand of Mary. It is one of the world's oldest icons. A five-finger hand, the Arabic word for "five" being hamsa, its symbolism pre-dates the rise of monotheism. Powers of healing and protection are ascribed to amulets in its image, which can be found placed on doors, walls, and worn as jewellery. 

Representations of this symbol are to be found far and wide but particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, within the Islamic and Jewish faiths, in cultures which our dance styles have their origins. The hand used in actual gesture in dance, yoga, prayer or in symbolic form in art and objects, does appear across the world. Hands are a primary means of communication and their image has universal appeal, they are translated into talismans by a host of cultures.

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The Hamsa appears in two forms: stylised with two symmetrical thumbs and asymmetrical, with a clearly defined thumb and little finger. Either form may be displayed with the fingers pointing up or down. The centre of the hand often contains other symbols, especially an eye, however different cultures may fill the hand with images relevant to them.

The first known use of the symbol can be traced to the civilization of Phoenicia that spread across the Mediterranean between 1550 – 330 BCE. The Phoenicians used an image of the hand to represent Tanit, patron goddess of their capital Carthage and controller of the lunar cycle. With time, her hand became a protective amulet in its own right and was used to ward off the evil eye, one of the oldest manifestations of human fear. The symbol was adopted by the ancient Sephardic Jewish community of the Iberian Peninsular, who named it the Hand of Miriam after the sister of the biblical Moses and Aaron and associated it with the number five (hamesh in Hebrew) to represent the five books of the Torah. It also symbolizes the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, "Het", which represents one of God's holy names, and further reminds Jews to use their five senses when praising God.

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The hand, the eye, and the number five figure significantly in Arabic and Berber tradition and also relate to warding off the evil eye. Here, the Hamsa is called the Hand of Fatima after Fatima Zahra, daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. The five fingers of the hand are further associated with the Five Pillars of Islam. Stylised versions of the Hamsa are also found, incorporating five shapes, diamonds or dots into their design. While Qu'ran law prohibits the wearing of charms and amulets, the Hamsa symbol is often depicted in and associated with Islamic cultures.

It remains popular as a protective charm in both Middle Eastern and Western cultures, it can be found incorporated into many fashion items and household decorations (even appearing in Primark!). But more significantly, the Hamsa is being worn as a symbol of peace by many people from differing religious backgrounds to demonstrate a common ground. The Hamsa is no longer just a talisman but has become a symbol of peace and hope in our troubled world.

If you are interested in reading more and looking at fabulous photos of Hamsa’s a beautiful book The Hand in Morocco by Khalid El Gharib is worth getting hold of.

Emma George
Who was Zuza?

Little is known about Zuza Ben i Ford, a dancer from Biskara in Eastern Algeria. Her story as far as I know it is confined to her visit to Newcastle upon Tyne and it is here that it sadly ended.

She was invited, with others from her community, as part of the North East Coast Exhibition in 1929 to come to Newcastle upon Tyne. The exhibition was intended to revive interest and stimulate trade with the region, to place the north east of England within a global context. Local products were to be brought together alongside people and artefacts from around the world.

This included the construction of a full scale African village. The press of the time reported the arrival of the party with a mix of curiosity and racism, referring to them as ‘dusky visitors’ and ‘awfully mischievous rascals’. It was observed that they took advantage of the local hospital facilities ‘with unnecessary frequent visits’. It was also noted with surprise that some of the party were educated! Not all of the locals however had the same attitude toward the group. The enterprising women were able to command a good fee for private dance performances.

The ‘African village’ on the exhibition site represented something of the Western European attitude toward the Arab world at that time. This was a pastiche of what such a village might be, mud huts, kraals, dancing hall and harem. These things would not in fact exist alongside each other and were drawn from communities far distant from each other.

Zuza died of consumption in September 1929 in Newcastle. Her funeral reported as a ’barbaric ritual’, was attended by her husband and her 8 month old child along with a large entourage of African and English mourners. She is buried in an unmarked grave in the Christian cemetery of St Andrews in Jesmond. However there are plans underway to have a culturally appropriate marker erected to show where she lays. I read of her in a local newspaper and was moved to contact the researchers and find out more. The local University are running the project aiming to draw upon some of the parallels between the current international situation and the historical; they intend Zuza to be a focus. Her story is to be recorded in a book and will include contributions of text from both countries in order to reflect upon the different views both cultures hold/held.

Oriental dance purists may draw parallels with Tribal Style Dancing and the conglomerate African Village of the exhibition, representing all and yet little of the individual cultures of the Arab world at that time. My response is that what I do as a Tribal dancer celebrates many cultures, drawing from their costume and dance traditions, bringing them together in a fusion that aims to make them accessible and enjoyed by many. I believe that the travelling people of the ancient world would have carried ideas on music and dance along with their wares as they traded, so there has always been exchange and evolution.

American Tribal Style has evolved quickly, in today’s world things do, modern communication and travel have facilitated this. Already we are seeing many new facets of this style emerging as women bring to it their own personal herstory.

Emma George