Sunday, April 29, 2012

Writers on Dance: Sonallah Ibrahim's "The Committee"

from Syracuse University Press
After reading and hearing many recommendations for this Kafka-esque novel, Sonallah Ibrahim's The Committee (translated by Charlene Constable and Mary St. Germain). I wasn't expecting, right there on page 12, to see the protagonist, a man, be forced to perform a belly dance during an interrogation/interview before a mysterious audience in an unnamed country.  I'm still reading the book and can't  project how the dance fits into the overall novel, but this troubling scene comes just as the questioning begins and is immediately followed abruptly by an invasive strip search.  His dance, though described in a straightforward, humorous, and even knowledgeable manner, is painfully disturbing.  This is a valuable and very different take from the other dance excerpts from other writers included in this blog:

One of the ladies, elderly and dignified, spoke.  She was seated at the far left, near an obese man wearing a white jacket, his legs crossed, his head thrown back, gazing at the ceiling as though he were not with us.  She asked me, "Do you know how to dance?"

"Yes, indeed . Of course."

Stubby butted in, "Show us then."

"What sort of dancing?"

I realized this question was a mistake.  What sort of dancing, indeed!  As if there were any other.

Without hesitation I acted, hoping speed and finesse would testify on my behalf.  Finding nothing else, I took my necktie and wound it around my waist just above my hip bones, right where it would emphasize the body's flexibility.  I made a point of putting the knot on the side, as professional belly dancers do.  I soon discovered that worn this way, it had a great feature: it separates the belly from the backside, allowing each independent movement.

I began to undulate, lifting my ankles a little off the ground.  Glancing down at them over my shoulder, I raised my arms above my head and twined my fingers, framing my face with my arms.  I danced energetically for a little while, making an effort to snap my fingers, even after linking my index fingers.  I was so absorbed I didn't notice the impression I made on the members.

The chairman, who heard not and saw not, spoke suddenly, motioning with his hand, "Enough."

More on this book soon....

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