As holiday shoppers filled the streets of Providence recently, a familiar sound filled the air: the shrill whistle of one of the most celebrated traffic cops in dancing-traffic-cop history.
Sixty-four-year-old Tony Lepore, the “Dancing Cop,” has been directing traffic with skillful pirouettes and the wiggle of his hips since 1984 and shows few signs of slowing down.
Every year, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, he makes his stage appearance downtown at the intersection of Dorrance and Westminster – and gives a performance both entertaining and functional: safely guiding traffic while giving onlookers a show.
In the early ‘80s, as a full-time police officer, Tony watched a segment on “Candid Camera” that inspired him to do a few dance moves while directing traffic.
“Every time I saw a boss coming down the street I would go back and do it the traditional way so I don’t get caught” Tony said with a twinkle in his eye. When the local newspaper printed a story, the Dancing Cop phenomenon went international with appearances on television and in newspapers all over the world. With all of the positive publicity, the top brass let the show go on.
Although Tony officially retired in 1989, the city still brings him back during the holidays to grace the lunchtime crowd with moves such as “the John Travolta,” where he drops to his knees, chaotically waves traffic by, and pops back up; and the “ducky,” a backward breakdance-like maneuver that stops the crowd in their tracks. Tony says sometimes he’s his own worst enemy, creating a traffic backup when people stop to watch, but the faces of the drivers show more joy than road rage.
At the end of an especially physical performance on Tuesday, Tony said with a smile, “I have people that come up to me and say, ‘Now I can start my Christmas shopping ‘cause you’re here,’ and that’s a tribute, that’s wonderful.” Friday will be his last day for the 2011 season.