102-Year-Old Dancer Sees Herself Dancing on Film for the First Time

What was the Harlem Renaissance? A dancer named Alice Barker could have told you a lot about that. Alice Barker was born on July 30, 1912. She was born and raised in Chicago. She’s a famous black dancer during the era of the Harlem Renaissance.

The Struggle of Being a Black Dancer

Alice dreamt of becoming a dancer ever since she was young. It was known that during her time, it was hard for a woman like her to make bold actions, but Alice has the strong will to make her dreams into reality. She was so determined to reach her dreams, so during her mid 20’s, she left for New York to pursue her passion which is to perform.

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Alice Barker from then on never stopped until she reached the pinnacle of stardom. She started as a chorus-line dancer. She performed at clubs in New York City such as The Apollo, Cotton Club, and Zanzibar Club, where she was a member of the Zanzibeauts, a legendary dance group. She has also performed alongside Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson on Broadway. 

What is Harlem Renaissance?

During the 1920s and 1930s, the Harlem Renaissance was an intellectual and cultural rebirth of African American music, dance, art, fashion, literature, etc. in Harlem, Manhattan, New York City. 

To know more about the Harlem Renaissance, you may read the book One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance.

Alice Barker and her Important Role in Performing Arts

Alice Barker is a part of a short musical clip that was called soundie. A typical member of soundie danced in a popular nightclub with the most requested songs at that time and after making the film, it will be distributed in a jukebox. Alice also made her first TV appearance dancing alongside the famous ‘the voice’ Frank Sinatra making her the first African woman to perform on television.

Alice Barker had danced in a number of movies and commercials, but she had lost all of her photographs and memorabilia throughout the years. In fact, Alice had never seen any footage of herself in action until after celebrating her 102nd birthday.  

Thanks to Jazz on Film’s Mark Cantor and David Shuff who presented to Alice three “soundies”  of her shimmering and swaying across the stage. They showed the videos in her nursing homeroom. 

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When asked how it felt to see herself dancing, Barker replied, “Making me wish I could get out of bed and do it all over again.” since every time the black dancer hears the music she just gets carried away. 

The story of Alice Barker shows that women artists had an important role in the Harlem Renaissance, particularly as singers, actors, dancers, and authors.

What was the Harlem Renaissance? It was something magical.