By Samantha Critchell
The Associated Press
Crawl, walk, run, dance: It's the natural progression of movement for young children. That goes for both girls and boys.
Toddlers, in particular, love to dance even if there is no music to be heard. But sooner or later a little boy who loves to dance - be it ballet or boogieing - might find himself the victim of ridicule.
The best defense, says choreographer Brian Thomas, is to point out to the bullies doing the mocking that dance is probably the most physically demanding "sport" of all.
"Ballet is one of the hardest things you can do. It's harder than martial arts, basketball, football because it's just you out there. You have to really know your body and how your body works," says Thomas.
Children can get their first taste of disciplined dance in the new video Zoe's Dance Moves, a production of Sesame Workshop and Sony Wonder.
Muppets Zoe and Elmo, two of the most popular Sesame Street characters, learn about the "world of dance," including ballet, African, Asian, tap and hip-hop, from Paula Abdul. Thomas choreographed the actual moves and four children, two girls and two boys, join in for the final performance. Viewers are encouraged to participate, too.
The dance activities, along with the role-play and dress-up elements of the video, can foster creativity and encourage cognitive and physical growth, says Rosemarie Truglio, vice president of education and research for Sesame Workshop. Additionally, including dance steps from different genres will help foster a respect and understanding for other cultures, she says.
"Dance is good for your spirit," says Thomas, explaining that jazz is probably more fun while ballet gives a greater sense of accomplishment.
He adds, "I think the biggest thing that kids and adults get out of dance is confidence. Just like with any sport, it's a way to challenge yourself, grow and give you that confidence."
Growing up in Saginaw, Mich., Thomas, 33, says he wasn't given an opportunity to take dance classes. The next best thing was karate.
"I was interested more in forms than combat in martial arts," he says. "I didn't really like beating up someone for points but I didn't know there was something else out there for me."
Dancing helps create longer, leaner muscles than most other sports and it elongates the spine. Dancers who have a strong "center," the abdominal and lower back muscles, are less likely to suffer back injuries, Thomas says.
Even a 3-year-old can learn to move gracefully, he says; it's just a matter of teaching a toddler to move his arms and legs in slow, smooth and strong actions.
Thomas says his own son hasn't fully embraced the idea of ballet class, but the 13-year-old knows that to do any sort of "commercial dance" such as he sees on music videos, he has to learn the basics.
Videos by Michael Jackson and Abdul in the 1980s that emphasized dance are what turned Thomas on to his choreography career. He says today's youngsters can look to Lil' Romeo or Usher for inspiration.
"Hip-hop and R&B is what made it OK for men to dance," Thomas says.
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