|Review by Morayo Sayles|
In his tenth documentary, director and producer Alan Govenar tells the tale of a 51-year old man dancing his way to his dreams on the palms of his hands.
Abubakar Sidike Conde an immigrant from Guinea (Guinea-Conakry) lives an extraordinary life in the thriving cosmopolitan jungle of New York City.
The documentary opens with rhythmic African music playing against the familiar backdrop of New York City’s bustling activity. The music stops and the camera hones in on a sleeping man enveloped in comforters and blankets.
The man stirs, awakens and moves to get out of bed. He pushes his blankets aside to reveal thin, frail legs that could not possible hold the bulk of the man sitting up.
They don’t have to.
With practiced skill, Sidike folds his legs under his torso and begins his morning routine of bathing and getting dressed. Watching him move with the ease and familiarity of a normalcy we all engage in every day, the documentary accomplishes its goal – Sidike lives an everyday man’s life, only unlike most people’s, his life is fueled by will, positive thinking and very, very, strong arms.
4 minutes and 57 seconds of time passes before we hear Sidike’s voice and the first thing he says is “okay”.
Sidike Conde is an African dancer who immigrated to the United States in the early 90s. In the film, he shows us his world and tells us the story of his life with a constant smile on his face. The son of a polygamous military man, Sidike grew up on a compound with his family that consisted of his father’s four wives and thirty four siblings.
He lost the use of his legs at the age of 14 to polio while living in Guinea. Refusing to live the life relegated to him by his culture and his “leg problems” – his reference to his obvious inability to walk,
Sidike joined an African dancing troop in Guinea. Sidike and his troop came to New York City in search of fame and fortune like other starry-eyed dreamers had done. For Sidike, his dreams were more far-reaching, he came to New York to find a place, his place in the world again.
You Don’t Need Feet to Dance gives unique insight into the struggle of living in New York. Watching him go up and down the four flights of stairs in his apartment building on his hands, sometimes with bags in tow, was exhausting.
Nevertheless, what Alan Govenar showed also was how NYC was best suited to meet Sidike’s needs. With the array of public transportation at his disposal – cabs, buses, subway, and his assortment of wheelchairs and adapted bikes, there’s no place in the city Sidike can’t reach. It’s as if New York was made with Sidike in mind.
As I watched the film, question after question would pop into my head and shortly I needed answered – How did Sidike get to stay in the US? Is he a citizen? What does he do for work? For Sex? Does he have friendships? Has he gone home to Guinea since his migration? The documentary’s narrative answered many of my questions, the rest just add to Sidike’s mystique.
Following his father’s example, Sidike is a polygamist. He has a wife in Guinea and a wife Debra, in the United States. Indifferent to the culture taboos associated with polygamy, Sidike speaks briefly about the challenges of managing two relationships, but does so matter-of-factly, his relationship status just adds to the colorful brocade of his character. His marriage to Debra gives him some level of legitimacy to stay in the country I would imagine. To make money, Sidike the musician is nimble and agile. He gives music classes, is part of a band Afro Jersey and when the gigs dry up, a street musician who beats a mean drum.
There some expected moments in the storytelling that did not fail to deliver. I expected to watch Sidike struggle to enter a building with no handicap access and I watched Sidike struggle as he tried to enter a building with no handicap access. What was quite surprising was the fact that he was hired to give a music class at said building.
Did his employers forget that he could not walk up the front steps of their building to the lobby? Perhaps they made accommodations for a ramp and plans fell through. Not so! The door attendant of the building blew that excuse out of the water. No ramps or handicap access here, just the option of suffering through the indignity of being lifted in and out of your chair I guess. To top it all off, another invited guest to the house was a handicapped individual as well. So the entrance of Sidike and his young companion became a spectacle of sorts, not the innocuous entrance the average individual is afforded.
I expected to see some anger, despair or even desperation from Sidike and most surprisingly, even quite inspiringly so, I did not see that. I saw never ending optimism and positive thinking from an individual whose life involved feats of herculean strength in my opinion and a defiant stand not to take the life fate dealt him.
There’s a moment when his guard is down and we see a vulnerable underbelly – it’s at the end when Sidike speaks of how far he’s come and his greatest regret that his mother is no longer alive to see him. Sidike cries and looks away from the camera. It’s the first time I see him do this.
You cannot help but watch this film and be inspired. You’ll be inspired by the man and by the story of his struggle to take back his place in the world. A great story from Alan Govenar.