The first five minutes of You Don’t Need Feet To Dance shows Sidike Conde going through his daily routine, getting out of bed, brushing his teeth, getting dressed, and descending the stairs of his five floor walk up in New York City. Although he lost the use of his legs after contracting polio at the age of 14, Sidike approaches life with optimism. In 2007, Conde won an award from the Heritage Foundation, which recognizes exemplars in folk and traditional arts.
“I was completely captivated by by his story, his circumstance and his attitude,” said director, Alan Govenar. “He is this extraordinary person with this incredible attitude that I think we all can learn from.”
At the age of 17, Sidike was nearly excluded from a circumcision ritual that welcomed young men into adulthood in his hometown in Guinea. Determined, he learned to dance on his arms, to play drums and to do everything the other boys could. Sidike continued to play music and in 1988, he came to America and formed the Tokounou All-Abilities Dance and Music Ensemble. Sidike teaches children of all abilities in New York public schools.
One of the most uplifting moments in the movie is when Sidike helps lead an after school music class. The children in the class obviously love his drumming and music lesson. Although it isn’t clear from watching, several of the children have different degrees of disability, and the occupational therapist recounts how Sidike inspired the children when they felt unable to participate.
“Look at me,” he said. “If I can do this, you can.”
Director Alan Govenar is an accomplished writer and director, and the founder of Documentary Arts, whose goal is to present new perspectives on historical issues and diverse cultures. Govenar is a Guggenheim Fellow and has published 24 books. He has also produced and directed numerous documentaries.
“Stylistically, this pushes my art form to a new level,” said Govenar of “You Don’t Need Feet.” “This is the most intimate documentary I’ve ever made.”
The film is almost entirely filmed using natural light and with a handheld camera. And much of the content was unplanned. Toward the end of the film, there is a party to which all their closest friends are invited, but no one turns up. This is a sad moment and Govenar discussed with Sidike whether to leave this out but they decided to keep it in because that is what they experienced. Another poignant moment is when Sidike cries because he misses his mother who never lived to see the success he has made of his life.
“I’m hoping people will be inspired to the extent at which it can help their own lives,” said Govenar. “But I’m also hoping it will motivate people to know more about Sidike, and that it can tangibly make a difference in his life.”