Wednesday, June 3, 2015

TMFW 91 - The Boss and Courteney Cox inspire a famous dance

Now this is a story all about how...a Bruce Springsteen video was an unlikely inspiration for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.  
Let's start in the early 80s, with a young kid named Alfonso Ribeiro.  Ribeiro was a great dancer, and at age 13 he had a starring role on Broadway in the musical The Tap Dance Kid (here's his performance at the 1984 Tony Awards; he appears at about 2:08).  That same year, he appeared in a commercial for Pepsi, where he danced with Michael Jackson.  Shortly thereafter, he played Ricky Schroeder's best friend in Silver Spoons, and they found a way for him to dance there, too.  Ribeiro was a sufficiently famous dancer that he hawked a "breakin' and poppin'" book that promised to teach suburban kids everywhere how to breakdance.  (No joke: I remember very distinctly writing down that 1-800 number on a notecard when I was a kid in the hopes that I could convince my parents to shell out the $19.99 for the book.  It came with a free breakdancing mat!  If they had, I probably would be an entertainment legend by now rather than writing weekly blog posts that nobody reads.)
So anyway, by the mid-80s Ribeiro was famous for being a great dancer.  It is sort of ironic, then, that the dance that has made him iconic is one that is prototypically nerdy.  
Most TMFW readers know that Ribeiro starred as Carlton Banks on the 90s TV show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.  Carlton was the foil for Will Smith; he was a whitebread, nerdy, uptight rule-follower that contrasted nicely with Smith's street-smart, cool, laid-back rebel.  And his goofiness was often a vehicle for "look at that nerd" comedy bits.  The most famous of those came in the middle of season 3.  Carlton comes down the stairs at his house and pops in Tom Jones' "It's Not Unusual."  After confirming that he is all alone, he enthusiastically lip-syncs and dances along, to be caught of course by Will.  It is a funny sequence, and one that resonated with the audience.  Carlton danced several more times during the show, and in the series finale Carlton and Will even do the dance together.  
Since the original run of the show, The Fresh Prince played in syndication for many years on WGN, TBS, and Nick at Nite, which solidified "The Carlton Dance" as a pop culture reference.  The initial video I linked above - which is one of many instances of the dance on YouTube - has over 12 million views.
That brings us back to today's True Music Fact: the inspiration for "The Carlton Dance."  Ribeiro has said many times in interviews that the dance is a combination of Eddie Murphy's "white people dance" from Raw (NSFW, language) and....Courteney Cox.  Cox was 19 years old and unknown when she appeared in Bruce Springsteen's video for "Dancin' in the Dark."  At the end of the video (you can cut right to it here), Springsteen pulls her from the crowd and awkwardly dances out the rest of the song with her.  Apparently that made an impression on young Ribeiro - who at that time, you will remember, was dancing on Broadway and starring in commercials with Michael Jackson - and it turned into his namesake move.  
Ribeiro has had a decent career since The Fresh Prince, and last fall he won the 19th (!!!) iteration of Dancing With the Stars.  His week 4 performance reprised The Carlton Dance, to the delight of the audience and straight 10s from the judges.  And my mother thought it was great.
BONUS FACT - Uncle Phil's law firm in The Fresh Prince was Firth, Wynn, and Myers.  Quincy Jones named them that in a not-so-subtle play on the band Earth, Wind & Fire.
BONUS FACT 2 - Though he had already had big hits by the time he starred in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air - He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper was triple platinum and "Parents Just Don't Understand" won a Grammy award -  the young Will Smith was a profligate spender and poor financial manager.  By the time that the show started, he owed the IRS almost $3 million in back taxes.  The federal government garnished Smith's earnings for the first 3 seasons of the show to get their money.  
BONUS FACT 3 - This is only barely related, but I love this John Mulaney bit about Tom Jones on the jukebox at a diner (NSFW, a little bit of language).
BIBLIOGRAPHY/FURTHER READING - The idea for today's story, and many of the bonus facts, came from this "Today I Found Out" entry from February.  And if you just can't get enough Fresh Prince of Bel-Air trivia, this list of 24 is pretty good.

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