David Shuff and Mark Cantor, both from the Celluloid Improvisations Music Film Archive, found the old footage that had been filed under the name “Barker.” They seamed it all together into a film collage of some of her glory moments — dancing in clubs, shows, movies, and commercials with celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson — then brought it to her nursing home in Brooklyn to show her. It was the first time she had ever seen herself on film.
Shuff was inspired to find the footage after visiting with Alice at her nursing home and hearing her stories. “I knew Alice for several years — my dog is a therapy dog and we visited her nursing home — the recreation nurse and I always talked about how amazing it would be to find her films and show her,” Shuff told The Washington Post. “And we finally were able to.”
When she was asked how she felt about seeing the footage, she said it makes “me wish that I could get out of this bed and do it all over again.”
She remembered her dancing days with joy and passion, saying that she had danced ever since she was a child and it was all she did. “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,” Barker said in the video. “Because that music, you know, I just get carried away in it.”
During the Harlem Renaissance, the explosion of cultural, social, and artistic life that took place in Harlem during the 1930s, Barker danced in famous clubs like the Apollo, the Cotton Club, and the Zanzibar Club. The video was filmed in the fall of 2014 but published in April 2015, and Alice Barker is still alive and well.
Dancing was “all I ever did,” Barker said with joy, remembering the days gone by. “That was it.”
Here’s the video: