Film Review: You Don't Need Feet to Dance

Loving, truly inspirational documentary which captures the lion-sized spirit of a very special artist.

There are inspirational figures, and then there is Sidiki Conde. He was born in in 1961 in Guinea, West Africa, and by the age of 14, polio had completely paralyzed his lower body. He learned to walk on his hands, and not only walked, but danced, at his traditional coming-of-age ceremony.

Conde went to the city of Conakry, where, with a group of other disabled artists, many of them living on the streets, he formed an orchestra and toured the country. He joined the dance company Merveilles D'Afrique in 1987, becoming soloist and rehearsal master, creatively responsible for much of its repertoire. Music collaborations with artists like Youssou N'Dour, Salifa Keita, Baba Maal and others followed.

Conde arrived in America in 1998 and founded the Tokounou All-Abilities Dance and Music Ensemble. Despite all his accomplishments and renown, survival, both physical and financial, remains a challenge today. He lives in a fifth-floor walk-up apartment in the East Village of Manhattan, where he continues to teach and perform, often busking on the street.

Alan Govenar‘s You Don’t Need Feet to Dance is a vibrant and deeply human portrait of a survivor at all costs that will often have you dropping your jaw in awe, and wonder that you ever complained about any comparatively little problem in your own life. A beaming smile on his handsome face more often than not, Conde fully embraces each problem-filled day and the personalities who populate them, maneuvering one of the world’s most daunting cities with grace and uncanny, inexhaustible energy. There are stairs, subways and buses to contend with, all of which he manages briskly through the use of his hands and special wheelchair that has him positively zooming through the streets.

The immense spirit and love simply overflow out of the man as he greets similarly handicapped friends and teaches a class of white kids how to get down to his distinctive, irresistibly African-flavored music. And when you see him playing the djembe drum, singing and almost literally dancing his ass off for a special baby-naming ceremony, it becomes apparent that James Brown may have thought he was the hardest working man in show business but he had absolutely nothing on this fabulously irrepressible soul.