Christmas means time for family, presents, cookies and of course, holiday traffic. All over the country, traffic cops are working overtime to keep the roads safe for last-minute shoppers.
For nearly 30 years, Tony Lepore has worked as one of those cops in Providence, R.I. But he doesn't just beckon, wave and blow a whistle; he dances — and he's got some serious moves.
Lepore told Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin that he always wanted to be an entertainer, but that wasn't easy to do in Rhode Island in the 1960s. So, he became a police offer instead. After being inspired by some progressive traffic directing by Chicago cops he saw on Candid Camera, he decided to jazz up his own directing with his personal style.
"I did this for about three days, until the Providence Journal got wind of it and came down and did [a]whole front-page spread," Lepore says. "Because people were calling the [police] station and loving it so much, they let me do it."
Though it might seem to some people that Lepore is just dancing in the street, he says every hip swivel, spin move and leg shimmy is for traffic. He says safety, however, is still paramount.
"I have to be much more cautious because I direct traffic this way," he says. "I've had a few close calls but I've never had an accident."
Lepore says that he never thought that by pursuing a career in law enforcement he'd get live out his dream of being an entertainer.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Christmas means time for family and presents, cookies, and, of course, holiday traffic. All over the country, traffic cops are working overtime to keep the roads safe for last-minute shoppers. For nearly 30 years, Tony Lepore has been working as one of those cops in Providence, Rhode Island. But he doesn't just beckon, wave and blow a whistle - Tony dances. And he has got some serious moves. Tony Lepore joins us from Warwick, Rhode Island. Welcome to the program.
TONY LEPORE: Glad to be here.
MARTIN: What's the story? What first inspired you to dance while directing traffic?
LEPORE: You know, I always wanted to be a performer. But in Rhode Island in the '60s, that was very hard to do, especially if your father was an immigrant from Italy and wanted his boys to go to school.
MARTIN: So, what in the world made you think, oh, this is the perfect venue for me to express my dancing self?
LEPORE: Well, I can't take credit for it, because one night I was watching "Candid Camera," and these police officers from Chicago - and I never saw anything like the way they were directing traffic. Not as progressive as the way I direct, but people were loving it. I came up with a plan. I said, hmm, I'm going to go out there and direct traffic, do a couple of hand movements - nothing really extreme - but if I saw a boss coming down the street, I'll go back and do it the traditional way so I don't get caught. So, I did this for about three days until the Providence Journal got wind of it and came down and did a whole front page spread. And because people were calling the station loving it so much, they let me do it.
MARTIN: For people who haven't seen it, we should describe this. I mean, there are a couple of videos on the Internet. And this isn't just, you know, a little jazz hand here and there. Tony, there's some hips swiveling. I mean, there's some serious, serious moves.
LEPORE: Yeah, every move is for traffic - every single move. People think I just go up there and dance.
MARTIN: So, like, a hand gesture to the left or a swivel to the right indicates the traffic needs to turn here or there. Is that dangerous at all?
LEPORE: I've had a few close calls, but I'd never had an accident, never had anyone hit. But I have to be much more cautious because I direct traffic this way. And safety is the first thing.
MARTIN: Did you ever think that by pursuing a career in law enforcement, you would actually inadvertently end up making your childhood dream come true of being an entertainer?
LEPORE: Never in a million years. Never in a million years.
MARTIN: That's Tony Lepore. He is Providence's dancing cop. Thanks so much for joining us, Mr. Lepore.
LEPORE: Oh, thank you. I really enjoyed. I wish I could do a little move for you but we're on radio.
MARTIN: I wish you could too. Merry Christmas to you.
LEPORE: Merry Christmas to you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MARTIN: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.