“Dance Baby”: 13-year old Alfonso Ribeiro’s video appeared in Night Flight’s late ’84 special

By on June 5, 2017

On December 21, 1984, Night Flight’s “Take Off to Dance” explored dance in pop and rock through the ages, and featured music videos by a wide variety of artists across the pop spectrum, including Kool & the Gang, Electric Light Orchestra, Michael Jackson and Jackson’s thirteen year old child pal Alfonso Ribeiro, who a year earlier had famously danced with Jackson in a Pepsi commercial and was now dancing in his very own music video, “Dance Baby.” You can watch the video in this special segment, streaming over on Night Flight Plus.

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Today, the 5-ft 6-inch Ribeiro is one of the most memorable TV stars of the 1990s, becoming a huge star as preppy rich kid Carlton Banks, Will Smith’s straight-laced dorky cousin on TV’s “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” where he created an awkward goofy dance dubbed “the Carlton,” one he often still performs today. Re-runs of the show still air in syndication.

By the end of 1984, from the age of ten, he’d already released three singles, one of which was “Dance Baby,” and his career as a child actor and teen actor was moving along pretty quickly.

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Alfonso Lincoln Ribeiro, Jr. was born in New York City on September 21, 1971, and raised in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.

His family had originally hailed from the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the twin-island country situated off the northern edge of the South American mainland, near Venezuela.

He’d made his first TV appearance at age eight, on a PBS show called “Oye Ollie,” and that’s right about the time he decided that his future would include both dancing and singing, although unlike a lot of kids, he didn’t get the chance to have any formal acting or dance training until later.

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He was already enrolled in junior high when the casting company for an upcoming Broadway musical asked him to audition for The Tap Dance Kid.

He was given one of the leading role, a child who aspires to be a dancer, a role that wasn’t much of a stretch.

He spent the next year training with professional choreographers, and after the show opened, Ribeiro enjoyed some of the Tony-winning show’s biggest raves, and he was singled out for his acting and dancing, earning a nomination for an Outer Critics Circle Award for his performance.

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Newsweek magazine, in their review, said that Ribeiro “looks like a miniature Michael Jackson and dances like an urban whirlwind, not only tapping but disassembling his bone structure in that joyous human puppetry of the streets known as ‘breakdancing.’”

It’s quite likely that the Newsweek review was seen by the reigning “King of Pop, Michael Jackson — who wasn’t making a lot of public appearances at the time — who came out to a performance.

Liking what he saw up on stage, Jackson asked Ribeiro to appear in a new Pepsi Cola commercial he was shooting soon, along with the rest of the Jacksons.

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Jackson invited him to come out to Los Angeles, where they had lunch at Jackson’s Neverland Ranch compound in Los Olivos, California, where they played video games, developing a friendship that lasted until Jackson’s death in 2009.

Bob Giraldi, the director of the Pepsi commercial, had previously worked with Jackson a few times — he directed the video for “Beat It,” and for Jackson’s and Paul McCartney’s “Say Say Say” duet — when Pepsi’s ad agency BBDO hired him to shoo their “Pepsi Generation” campaign.

In the commercial, you can see that Ribeiro already has some of Jackson’s signature moves figured out, and he’s even got the red leather jacket that looks like one Jacko wore in the “Thriller” video in 1983.

Ribeiro and a group of pre-pubescent break-dancing kids — including a young Corey Feldman wearing black sunglasses — are obviously jacked up on Pepsi and imitating Jackson’s moonwalking dance when they bump into the real Michael, moonwalking their way into his heart.

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One weird side-story about the 12-year old dancer was written up in an Associated Press story dated June 5, 1984 (“Broadway star not dead”) which claimed there was “no truth to the rumor that a young Broadway star died of a snapped neck while doing a break-dancing scene in a soft-drink commercial with Michael Jackson.”

Ribeiro’s talents as a dancer led him to becoming something of an expert, allowing him to cash-in on a serious of dance videos and numerous appearances on TV talk shows and variety programs, where he performed the intricate moves.

There was even a book, called Alfonso’s Breakin’ and Poppin’ Book.

Around this same time, Ribeiro also signed a recording contract with Prism Records and, releasing a handful of singles — “Dance Baby,” “Not Too Young (To Fall in Love),” “Sneak Away with Me” and a rap song, “Time Bomb” — all between the ages of ten and thirteen.

You might also enjoy his reggae-tinged cover of the Five Stairsteps’ “Ooh Child.”

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Around the time our “Take Off to Dance” aired, he’d already been appearing regularly in NBC’s primetime sitcom “Silver Spoons,” playing junior high student “Alfonso Spears,” the hip, break-dancing nephew of the show’s star, Ricky Schroeder.

Ribeiro had joined the cast in the show’s third season (it had debuted in 1982). He would continue to act on the show as he and Schroeder moved on to high school.

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Around this same time, he also logged acting credits with appearances on “Magnum, P.I.,” “Circus of the Stars,” “The Andy Williams Christmas Special,” and “Star Cruise.”

Following the cancellation of “Silver Spoons,” Ribeiro continued his real high school education, and began attending California State University at Los Angeles.

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His next big break came when he was cast as Will Smith’s character’s spoiled rich cousin in another NBC sitcom, “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

Smith (playing a character also called “Will Smith”) and Ribeiro became the show’s comedic duo, usually seen wearing ugly sweaters, khakis and loafers.

Over its six year run, it consistently boasted the highest ratings for a prime-time comedy series among teenage viewers, regularly breaking into TV’s top twenty shows based on overall ratings.

Ribeiro earned an NAACP Image Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series in 1996.

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By the show’s end, he had moved into directing, and had directed several episodes of the show, moving on to direct episodes of yet another show starring Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith, called “All of Us.” It had a short run, though, ending in 1997.

Ribeiro would end up being cast in another sitcom, UPN’s “In The House,” in another role similar to his Carlton, this one a sports-injury doctor, “Dr. Maxwell Stanton.”

The show also starred another rap artist, LL Cool J. It aired between 1995-1999.

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Eventually, Ribeiro would return to New York City, and appeared as “Willie” in the musical Golden Boy, which earned him another Outer Critics Circle Award nomination.

More recently, he’s now recognized from his appearance on TV’s “Dancing with the Stars,” which he won in 2014 (ask your Mom about that one if you’ve never seen it).

He also won Fox’s reality show “Celebrity Duets” back in 2006.

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His fame and TV IQ name recognition also led to a lot of TV hosting gigs, including “Catch 21″ game show (the show, derived from the game of blackjack, aired on the Game Show Network) ABC’s popular “America’s Funniest Home Videos” (taking over for long-running host Tom Bergeron) as well as “Your Big Break” and “GSN Live.”

He can be seen in an old McDonald’s commercial for McGriddle breakfast sandwiches too.

He’s also directed episodes of the Tyler Perry-led sitcom “Meet the Browns,” and directed (and provided voices) for episodes for the animated “Are We There Yet?,” as well as voicing characters for animated series “Spiderman” and “The Extreme Ghostbusters.”

Today, Ribeiro resides in Los Angeles, where his off-camera passions include motorcycles and car racing. He’s won the Toyota Grand Prix twice, and also participates in celebrity car races.

He’s also involved with the “Say No to Drugs” and the “Hands Across America” programs.

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Check out Night Flight’s “Take Off to Dance” special episode from December 1984, it’s streaming over on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.