Officer Victor S. Ciana
Pittsburgh Policeman and Traffic Cop
Brookline resident Vic Cianca was a policeman assigned as a traffic cop in downtown Pittsburgh, a position he held for thirty-one years. During those years, Cianca elevated the work of a traffic cop to a choreographed art, captivating motorists with his comedic repertoire of gestures. He became known world-wide as Pittsburgh's "Dancing Cop."
Victor S. Cianca was the son of Italian immigrants, born in Pittsburgh on January 5, 1918. He graduated from South Hills High School, where he played basketball, baseball and football. After graduation, he worked at Republic Steel before joining the Navy during World War II. When he returned from the war, Vic went back to work in the mill.
Cianca met his wife of sixty years, Anna Marie Berberich, in a drugstore in Carrick. In 1951, he took the exam to become a police officer. After acceptance, he assumed his position as a traffic cop in early 1952 and quickly developed his characteristic routine.
Wearing his customary white gloves, Officer Cianca used as many as three limbs at once to hurry people along. When someone drove too slowly, he would rest his cheek in his hands, miming sleep.
If a driver tried to explain away a traffic violation, he played an imaginary violin. He took slow, silly bows, and blew whistles so hard they broke. Showing his sweet-side, he often ushered women and children across busy downtown intersections.
Soon, people were coming from all around just to watch Officer Cianca direct traffic. They marveled at his theatrical antics and his balletic calm during traffic jams. Motorists who regularly encountered him brought him gifts.
"I have a reason for every motion or gesture," Vic reported in the September 9, 1962 Pittsburgh Press. "Few motorists can mistake my intentions, and they gladly follow my directions. Some of my antics are amusing, but all have a purpose".
"Motorists, particularly during rush hours, have short tempers," he continued, "so I control mine and that helps them to control theirs when something happens that neither they or I expect. Most seem to like my methods, and many wave and honk their horns when passing."
His flamboyant style of directing traffic led to appearances on the television program Candid Camera in 1964. Producer Allen Funt was so impressed that he invited Cianca to direct traffic in New York City's Times Square. In 1965, viewers chose him as the second-best performer ever on the program.
Cianca directed traffic at football and baseball games, aided motorists who suffered heart attacks, helped fix flat tires, put drunks in cabs and buses, helped retrieve lost children and even broke up fights. Through it all he always retained his suave demeanor and contagious humor.
Vic Cianca loved his job, and he loved the people he encountered during his daily duties. "Pittsburghers are the greatest people in the world," he said. "Where else can you go and have people call you by name though they don't even know you personally?"
Cianca later appeared on Charles Kuralt's CBS News documentaries, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and Real People. He also appeared in Budweiser commercials and was featured in the movie Flashdance, playing himself.
Upon his retirement on January 4, 1983, The Pittsburgh Press said that "A Downtown traffic jam without Vic Cianca is a traffic jam with no redeeming qualities."
Vic Cianca retired to the comfort of his Brookline home on Birtley Avenue. In his later years, he worked at a gas station on Greentree Road. He came out of retirement frequently for guest appearances at local parades, even ushering a procession of antique cars in 1986, remaining active into his nineties.
Over his many years in Brookline Vic became endeared to so many people, young and old, throughout the community. He was a Pittsburgh kind of guy who became a legend in the city and was beloved by an entire nation.
Vic Cianca passed away on January 24, 2010, at the age of 92. He may be gone, but Officer Cianca, in his signature white gloves, lives on in the hearts and minds of everyone who had the pleasure to witness his magic.
Videos of Officer Cianca, Pittsburgh's Dancing Cop
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