Alice Barker, 102, spent the 30s and 40s as dancer. She was on TV and film and shimmied with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.
Though Alice, who now lives in a Brooklyn nursing home, was always at the front of the stage at the Apollo, the Cotton Club and the Zanzibar Club, she never saw herself dance on film, the Washington Post reported.
Every shred of film, photos and memorabilia of her dancer years had been lost, Metro added.
That was until last year.
One Alice’s regular visitors is a man named Davis Shuff, who came often to see her with his therapy dog and knew she was a dancer during the Harlem Renaissance. Shuff is director of the Celluloid Improvisations Music Film Archive, and hoped he’d one day be able to find footage of his friend in action.
One day he did. He touched based with Mark Cantor, who runs the Jazz on Film archive; together, they found out Barker’s footage had been filed under the name “Baker,” the Daily Mail added. Three of her “soundies” (short musical films) were uncovered.
Barker was able to watch the soundies on an iPad last year as Shuff filmed her; the footage was posted to YouTube recently and went viral. Decades after Alice hung up her dancing shoes, the 102-year-old said she could remember the music like it was yesterday, and how she lost herself in the songs.
“Making me wish that I could get out of this bed and do it all over again. I used to often say to myself, ‘I am being paid to do something that I enjoy doing and I would do it for free, because it just felt so good doing it. Because that music, you know, I just get carried away in it.”
The love affair with dance began at an early age. One day when Alice was a child, her mother was getting a bath ready and slipped out for a moment. In those few moments, she heard a band play and couldn’t help dancing.
“When she came back I was gone. I was down there naked just going, dancing. And then, if the band would stop playing, I’d look at them and come on, let’s get it going, let’s get it going here.”‘
Barker’s impressive dance moves are now on show at the nursing home’s communal room. Her fellow residents think she’s a “rock star these days.” As for Alice, at 102, the lost film has given her a chance to be “connected to the world again.”
[Photo Courtesy YouTube Screengrab]