Providence’s ‘Dancing Cop’ directs traffic, breaks it down

By
Wednesday, January 21, 2009

In mid-December, when students headed off to hit the books, they may have found a surprise outside of the Sciences Library. The police officer at the corner of Thayer and Waterman streets was not just directing traffic – he was dancing. For two days during the holidays, Tony Lepore – Providence’s “Dancing Cop” – brings his tradition of directing traffic with style and break dance moves to Brown’s campus.

The students “seem to be trying to be polite and not notice what looks like bizarre behavior,” Janet Crager, a scholarly resources librarian at the SciLi wrote in an e-mail to the Herald. “They probably don’t know Tony’s a Providence tradition.”

Lepore said he developed his dancing cop routine in 1984 while directing traffic at the corner of Dorrance and Westminster streets. Lepore retired as a full-time police officer in 1989, but was asked to direct Providence traffic during the holidays in 1991 by then-Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci.

“I got so much notoriety they asked me to come back,” Lepore said.

During the month of December, Lepore tries to work every district of Providence for two days at a time because he wants as many people to see him as possible. He doesn’t have a set routine; instead he responds to the traffic around him.

“I have so many different moves – it depends on the cars,” Lepore said. “If they have their blinkers on, I might move my hips.”

One of his main stages is at the heart of Brown’s campus, on the corner of Waterman and Thayer streets.

“I first heard about him from a friend and didn’t (believe) her,” Elizabeth Elliott ’11 wrote in an e-mail to The Herald. “The next day when I was walking up Thayer, I heard someone obnoxiously blowing a whistle, and as I walked closer I saw that dancing cop breaking it down in the middle of the intersection.”

Since 1984, Lepore has become something of a Providence icon. He moved from working street corners to starring in two television shows: “Safe Kids and Friends” and “On the Road with Tony, the Dancing Cop,” which air on local public access television. He appeared on “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” and ESPN’s “Plays of the Week,” and also plays a lead character on the mini-pilot “Bread, Butter, and Bullets,” which can be seen on YouTube.

“Everybody knows who he is,” said Nick Albanese, the creator of “Bread, Butter, and Bullets.” “You say, ‘Dancing cop,’ and they say, ‘Oh yeah, I know that guy.'”

Lepore grew up in Silver Lake, a small Italian district in the West Side of Providence. After serving in Vietnam, Lepore joined the police force in 1972. “I needed to put food on the table, so I became a cop,” he said.

In 1984, while bored on a 45-minute shift directing traffic, Lepore started to dance. “I did not do any progressive stuff when I first started, just hand movements and a spin,” he said.

Initially, Lepore worried about how his superiors would react and was always on the lookout for their cars. But on May 1, 1984, the Providence Journal ran a front-page article on Lepore. The “Dancing Cop” became a hit with the people of Providence.

“Everyone has a gift, and I could dance,” he said. “It was easy for me.”

In addition to directing traffic around Providence at holiday time, Lepore travels around the country. He performed at the Texas Motor Speedway in 1997 and danced in Times Square one New Year’s Eve.

Lepore also works as a motivational speaker for children and often appears in classrooms and in front of children’s audiences. His show contains two parts: “Follow Your Dream” and traffic safety.

His show “Safe Kids and Friends” has won public access channel awards including Best Children’s Show, Best Educational Show and Best Series.

Lepore has also tried his hand at comedy. During a friend’s stand-up comedy performance, he interrupted, dressed in full uniform, and declared that he was conducting a raid. He then proceeded to the front of the stage and began to dance, much to the relief of the audience.

On “Bread, Butter, and Bullets,” Lepore plays an eccentric father, Alfredo. A spoof of “The Sopranos,” the comedy centers on a fake mob killing inside a bakery. The eight episodes of show are currently available on YouTube and have collectively been viewed over 15,000 times.

Albanese said he is currently brainstorming another series, one about Lepore’s “interesting life.”

“I like doing something different,” Lepore said, “but my notoriety is from directing traffic.”