Despite its unfortunate title, the documentary You Don’t Need Feet to Dance is perfectly sincere. In the opening shots, director Alan Govenar gets intimate with Sidiki Conde, a Guinean dancer and drummer who contracted polio as a child and lost the use of his legs. Conde is upfront and unafraid. Shirtless in his apartment, he reveals his powerful arms and shoulders as he moves about in the morning, accomplishing everything he needs to do entirely unaided. It’s spectacular, but only because, despite his paralysis, Conde manages to live so normally. More compelling still is his love of music and dance, his drive to disseminate the sounds of West Africa, and the grin that spreads across his face as he does what he loves. Conde makes music all over Manhattan, teaching disabled children on the Upper West Side and busking in Cooper Square, and he knows someone no matter where he goes. The story is sweet and inspiring, especially the scenes set in the masjid on First Avenue, but only in the second half does Govenar find the film’s emotional core—and Conde’s emotional vulnerability. Over and over, Conde plays the recording of a dance performance he did when receiving an award for the National Endowment for the Arts, lamenting that his troupe disbanded over money troubles and a lack of performance opportunities. He misses his American wife, currently teaching in Madagascar—he also left another wife and child back in Guinea, because he couldn’t support them. Conde knows that being in New York has given him the opportunity to make a life, but Govenar’s slow pace doesn’t quite do the story justice. With tighter editing, the film’s beats might be just as infectious as those from Conde’s drum.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 22, 2013