Life & Culture

Video of the Week: 102-Year-Old Harlem Renaissance Dancer Flashes Back

(Video link for mobile)

Take one Harlem Renaissance dancer, now 102; one devoted recreation therapist; one long-serving volunteer and his therapy dog; a music historian; a film archivist; and a couple of guys with cellphones. Mix them all together. Watch.

Those are the makings of the remarkable video above. It’s not the greatest quality (yes, it was recorded on mobile phones, as an afterthought) but it’s real – the in-the-moment responses of Alice Barker, now-bedridden, to her first view of herself on film as a chorus line dancer decades ago.

The story starts with recreation therapist Gail Campbell, who was working at the Brooklyn nursing home where Alice lives. According to information posted to YouTube, Gail knew that footage must exist of Alice, who in the 1930s and ’40s had danced at spots like the Apollo and Cotton Club, and with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.

With help from David Shuff, who with his therapy dog Katie had been visiting Alice in her nursing home for eight years, Gail kept searching. Eventually they connected with a historian of black women performers, Alicia Thompson; Alicia, it turns out, had been looking for Alice for years.

Through Alicia they found a film historian who had access to three clips from Alice’s past. The rest is all on video.


One response to “Video of the Week: 102-Year-Old Harlem Renaissance Dancer Flashes Back

  1. This was thrilling. What a thrill to see Ms Barker as she is today and as she was.
    But her visitors are all condescending idiots, except for the respectful cameraman.

    This was a textbook example of how older people are treated like subhumans. First, her visitors are all speaking to her as if she were senile, when she is more than all there. Second, they talk over the film, asking stupid questions, not allowing her to focus on this miraculous find of a film of her younger dancing self. They didn’t give her a moment to absorb this! No respect for this woman’s emotions. They all deserve to be spanked. They could have waited until AFTER she had seen the film to flap their yaps.
    Through it all, Ms. Barker’s intelligence, dignity and humor shine through.
    Stop condescending to your elders!

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