Will Smith reveals that he still can’t do The Carlton Dance from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Here are the details from the HBO Max reunion special.
Will Smith still can’t do the Carlton dance from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Now streaming on HBO Max, a reunion special for the groundbreaking NBC series features the main cast members, along with a special appearance from the original Aunt Vivian, Janet Hubert. During the 74-minute show, Alfonso Ribeiro discusses the dancing skills of his character Carlton Banks, namely the Carlton dance, which is something Smith always struggled with mastering.
Directed by Marcus Raboy, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Reunion takes place at the original set, where the cast members recall their experiences and speak about the show’s legacy. Early on, Smith states that he memorized entire scripts when the series’ first began, and video clips reveal that he can be seen mouthing the lines of fellow performers in aired episodes. Smith also points out that The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air‘s comedy was originally centered on the friction between Will and Uncle Phil (the late James Avery), but it quickly become evident that the Will-Carlton dynamic would be the series’ primary source of humor.
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During the early ’90s, Ribeiro’s Carlton dance became popular amongst loyal viewers, and later became a cultural sensation via YouTube and social media. The routine was reportedly inspired by Bruce Springsteen’s 1984 “Dancin’ in the Dark” music video (featuring a pre-Friends Courtney Cox) and Eddie Murphy’s “White Man Dance” from the 1987 special Eddie Murphy Raw. In The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Ribeiro typically performs the Carlton dance in scenes with Smith, and usually to the sounds of Tom Jones’ 1965 single “It’s Not Unusual.” During the HBO Max reunion special, Smith admits the painful truth about his experiences with the Carlton dance: “I never, ever could do the Carlton dance. For whatever reason, I can’t find the… there’s an opposite thing that he does, and I can’t — I just never — I never was able to get it.”
Ribeiro goes on to discuss the first script that included a Carlton dance scene, which made him think about how exactly his bourgeoisie character would actually dance, and why. Throughout the series, Carlton usually performs the dance when he’s feeling genuinely excited, and then hams it up because he believes himself to be a refined performer. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reunion special often references the series finale, “I, Done,” in which Smith delivers an awkward interpretation of the Carlton dance alongside Ribeiro. Both then and now, the scene works because it showcases the actors’ chemistry and the characters’ brotherly bond, yet it also reveals that Smith didn’t quite understand the specifics of the Carlton dance.
The final moments of the HBO Max reunion special remind of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air series finale, as Smith once again tries his best to perform The Carlton Dance. The moment is set-up by Ribeiro suggesting that there’s one thing that bugged him about the series, which transitions to a post-reunion moment where Smith dances to “I’m Not Usual” (though not perfectly), and Ribeiro is forced to explain how it all works. “I never could do this,” Smith says once again, before rallying his cast mates together for a final celebration.
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