Despite its title, there’s actually very little dancing, or rhythmic flair, in You Don’t Need Feet to Dance. In order to tell the tale of musician Sidiki Conde, a West African immigrant whose legs became paralyzed at the age of 14 due to polio, director Alan Govenar opts for the mundane over theatrics. He devotes the first quarter of the film to Sidiki’s morning routine before the man even leaves his tiny East Village apartment, striving to capture a lived-in space as Sidiki performs quotidian tasks without the use of his legs: getting out of bed, showering, cleaning dishes, making tea, feeding cats, watching the morning news, and ultimately using his hands to descend five flights of stairs. This series of events is illuminating, providing context through which the audience can peek inside the life of a typical New Yorker dealing rather causally with an atypical disability; the unforced observation works as a way to describe the character of Sidiki—a disabled man tacitly aware of his condition who refuses to consider why he would be unable to perform everyday tasks.
Oddly enough, where You Don’t Need Feet to Dance loses focus is in its depiction of what Sidiki actually cares about in life: music, his homeland of Guinea, and family. Much more of a musician than a dancer, Sidiki is seen jamming with musicians friends, entertaining the public on the street, and visiting a Chelsea apartment to teach traditional West African instruments to a diverse (but mostly white) group of kids with disabilities. Sidiki is a gifted mentor, as his infectious vivacity and unwillingness to accept failure influences his teaching skills more than his instructed beats on the djemba. Like many good-willed humanitarian documentaries, You Don’t Need Feet to Dance has it heart in the right place, but is unable to organize its series of compassionate observations, relying mostly on Sidiki’s heartfelt yet muddled voiceover to fill in the gaps as Govenar follows Sidiki from one heartwarming scenario to another. Sidiki mentions his wife that he had to leave behind in order to pursue music in NYC, and the people who helped him when he first arrived in America, but these significant details are haphazardly embedded in the voiceover and scattered throughout the documentary. Despite a pleasantly rendered fly-on-the-wall introduction, Governar spends the second half of the documentary reminding the audience constantly, almost superfluously, of the inspirational intent in telling the story of Sidiki’s life, repeatedly using uninspired interviews to explain how music has the power to distract you from focusing on disability. As a portrait of a man unbothered by potential setbacks, You Don’t Need Feet to Dance spends far too much time underlining Sidiki’s already-apparent tenacity.