Ribeiro began his career at the age of 8. He first gained recognition in 1983 when he played a leading role in the Broadway musical The Tap Dance Kid. He received positive reviews for his performance and was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award. Ribeiro appeared as a dancer in a Pepsi commercial that featured Michael Jackson in 1984. A rumor concurrently spread that Ribeiro had died from snapping his neck while dancing for the commercial. The same year, Ribeiro was cast as Rick Schroder's best friend on the TV series Silver Spoons.