Alfonso Ribeiro Explains How the Carlton Dance Was Invented on ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’

Alfonso Ribeiro played Carlton on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” from 1990-96. He recently won season 19 of “Dancing With the Stars.” He currently hosts “Unwrapped 2.0” on the Cooking Channel, and will take over as host of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” in the fall. He talked about the Carlton Dance and partying on the set.

“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” was the first young African-American show that had cross-pollination of the TV world and the hip-hop world, and people wanted to be part of that. This was a show where it was a party. When you came to the tapings, we had a DJ, we had standup comics — we danced and had fun between shooting our scenes. We truly enjoyed being together and hanging out and dancing and singing in Will’s dressing room before starting each taping.

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The only moment (of going off script) for me was one episode where Will was in a cabin, and he’s supposed to be tied up by this girl and then … he comes back and tells me that he might have killed her, and I go crazy. I told the director, “Listen, just keep a camera on me. I’m going to be crazy.” It ended up at the end of the show, where I got down on my hands and knees and pulled myself across (the stage) and ran up in the audience and came through the elevator doors in the school. It was one of those silly on-set moments that ended up making it to air.

I played a character that was as far from myself as possible. They would have to bring me a CD and some articles for me to read up on what the character liked, because I had never heard of Tom Jones. I didn’t know Barry Manilow. These weren’t people that I grew up with or experienced as a teenager. I grew up in the Bronx; I was a hip-hop kid.

The Carlton Dance was created when it said in the script: “Carlton dances.” It was never even intended to be funny; it was just that he was dancing. The dance is ultimately Courteney Cox in the Bruce Springsteen video “Dancing in the Dark”; that’s the basis. Or in Eddie Murphy’s “Delirious” video, “The White Man Dance” as he called it. And I said, “That is the corniest dance on the planet that I know of, so why don’t I do that?”

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