Ah, Christmas in Rhode Island. Exquisitely decorated mansions in Newport. A red nose on the giant termite that sits atop a Providence exterminator's building. And a traffic cop, doing disco and salsa moves in the middle of rush-hour traffic.
Officer Tony Lepore is as much a holiday tradition as anything else in the state. Since 1984, he has entertained drivers, pedestrians and gawkers with dance moves in downtown Providence -- all while directing traffic.
The routine, Lepore says, was born in the month of May of the boredom and aggravation that officers typically experience while directing rushing drivers and jaywalking pedestrians.
He was inspired by classic "Candid Camera" television footage he saw a day earlier that showed police officers elsewhere directing traffic with flair.
"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 says.
His secret didn't last long. City residents began calling the police station and raving about Lepore's moves. A few days later, The Providence Journal, the state's largest newspaper, came out with a story on the sensation.
The positive publicity encouraged officials to endorse the dancing cop, who continued to perform until he left the job in 1988, when he went into business with his brother with a food and vending service.
In 1992, Lepore says, he got a call from city officials asking him to rejoin the force to dance and direct traffic around Christmastime as they pushed to redefine the city's image and bring visitors downtown.