Officer Tony Lepore is a holiday tradition in Providence, Rhode Island dating back to 1984. He has entertained drivers, pedestrians and those who stop to watch his show for decades. Lepore is a traffic cop who performs disco and salsa dances during rush hour, according to a story in the Associated Press.
“He is a Rhode Island landmark, more or less. He’s an icon, he’s like a little mini celebrity,” says Michelle Peterson, of Warwick. Peterson took her children to see Lepore, 65, this year and was able to take pictures with him.
“It feels good to see him out here; it definitely brings the holiday spirit. I think people come out here just to see him and I think it brings some people to shop so they can see him.”
Lepore said that he came up with the idea during the month of May during the boring grind of directing traffic. He said he was inspired by “Candid Camera” footage he viewed of police officers directing traffic while entertaining at the same time.
“I didn’t know if my bosses were going to like it, so a lot of times if I saw a boss come down, I’d be doing my fancy stuff, then I’d go back and do it the old-fashioned way so I don’t get caught,” Lepore said.
Lepore’s entertainment secret did not stay a secret long as residents started calling the police station to praise his routine. Lepore performed each day he was on duty until he retired from the force in 1988. He left the force to enter business with his brother at a food and vending company.
Lepore said that he was called by the city in 1992 and asked to rejoin the force during Christmastime as the city tried to redefine its image and increase tourism to the downtown area. Lepore signed a 10-day contract worth $1,200 to work as a reserve police officer and froze the amount of the contract to the 1992 rate so officials from the city call him back each year.
While he directs traffic, Lepore fixes his hat, shakes his hip, raises and twists one leg and then spins. He also bends his knees, leans back and alternates support for his body by placing one hand on the ground while directing traffic with the other hand. He then pays homage He then pays homage to the character John Travolta played in “Saturday Night Fever.”
“This is ridiculous! Oh, man, this guy is the best,” Vik Jay said. “I’m from San Francisco. I used to go to Castro Street, and this is far more entertaining than anything I saw there.”
Lepore said, “I do it in such a way that even the people in the cars know what I mean, ’cause every dance move means something to the driver, and I make sure that he knows or she knows what I want them to do.”
Lepore also noted that his dancing has never caused an accident or a distraction.
“I think it would be more of a distraction if I was in a different town and they didn’t know I was out there, but most of Providence, they even know me by the sound of my whistle,” he said. “It’s more of a spectacle where people love to just come down here and see me do it around Christmastime, and they enjoy it … and I enjoy it.”