In one of the more amazing and adorable videos to show up on the internet recently, a very elderly woman sees films in which she appeared in the 1930s for the first time. Her name is Alice Barker and she was a dancer during the Harlem Renaissance, an intellectual art movement encapsulating film, music, poetry, writing, and more during the 1920s and early 1930s. This period of unbridled creativity gave us luminaries like Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Paul Robeson, Josephine Baker, Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, and many more.
Most of these artists and thinkers, so integral to the entertainment world even today, are no longer with us, but a film crew managed to track down Ms. Barker, living in a hospital, at the age of 102, and show her very old films she was in, dancing away. She would have been in her early twenties. And boy, just from the clips, you could tell she could really dance and was not at all shy about being in the center of shots.
The sheer excitement and joy on her face at seeing her younger self cutting a rug is electric. She’s very frail (102 years will do that) and she can’t speak as clearly as she once could, but you can tell she still has that same spark and love of music and dance. At one point she wishes she could get up out of bed and do it all over again, reminiscing about performing at clubs like The Apollo and Cotton Club and Zanzibar Club, dancing with people like Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, and Bojangles Robinson.
History comes flooding back in things like this and I for one and more than a little touched seeing her excitement build. The video was filmed in fall of 2014 and Ms. Barker is still alive, well, and kicking.