Good Vibrations

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The dozen or so kids at Step by Step activity center in Santa Monica, Calif., are bouncing off the walls — jumping, yelping, nearly out of control. Then the music begins. A jaunty tune called Goin' on a Bear Hunt fills the room, and almost instantly the little devils turn into perfect angels, standing in a circle, warbling in unison and acting out the lyrics.

It's the kind of reaction Greg Scelsa, 55, and Steve Millang, 54, have grown used to. As Greg & Steve, these middle-aged dads have been performing children's music for almost three decades. They have sold nearly 4 million records and recently released their 15th album, Fun and Games (Greg & Steve Productions).

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They don't have the big media exposure of the Rugrats, the Country Bears or Barney the dinosaur, and they forgo zany costumes and aggressive marketing tactics, favoring jeans and an easygoing, no-frills approach instead. But what really sets these two apart from the rest of the kiddie-pop pack is their interest in the connection between music and the way kids develop. The two dads began their musical career by playing for special-education classes and later expanded their audience to include kids without learning disabilities or physical handicaps. "We started as run-of-the-mill teacher's aides," says Scelsa. "We still think of ourselves that way, except now we have a bigger classroom."

Teachers say the key to Greg & Steve's music is the physical interaction their rock-flavored songs — such as Can't Sit Still, The Boogie Walk and Conga Line — virtually require. No laid-back lullabies, these beat-heavy, infectious numbers demand nonstop waving, shaking, stomping and singing along. The effect can be therapeutic. "I had a little guy in class who was so quiet and shy, I thought he had a speech impediment," says Mona Kolodzie, a kindergarten teacher at John Muir Elementary School in Contra Costa County, Calif. "Once he heard Greg & Steve, he started coming out of his shell. At first he'd just watch the other kids, but soon he was smiling, and by the end of the year, he was singing and talking with everyone else."

Raised in Newport Beach, Calif., Scelsa and Millang met in high school, where they jammed in rival bands. Years later, while working after college as teaching assistants for special-ed classes, they recorded a collection of songs for children and hand-carried the albums to a teachers' convention in Texas. In just two days they sold nearly 500 copies.

Time spent with slow learners gave them insights into how all children think. "Scientists are just now starting to [understand] how music and movement stimulate the brain in developing kids," says Millang. "Being in a classroom every day, we saw it firsthand. You have to use repetition, body movements and call and response at a pace they can understand and can get involved with while still having fun." The two continue to pay particular attention to special-needs students and have become mainstays at teachers' workshops. Although they perform some 100 concerts annually, they also play for free at schools where disabled youngsters can't attend regular Greg & Steve shows.

Both men feel that face-to-face contact with audiences is essential. So when Step by Step instructor Lonnie Martinez phoned a number listed on the Greg & Steve website to buy the album Kids in Motion, Millang realized that the center was near his home and personally delivered the disc.

Their fans are appreciative. "I've been listening to them for a thousand years," claims Noah Friedman, a chatty 6-year-old. "I know their Bean Bag Dance and Five Little Monkeys and other songs. But I really like Bear Hunt because I can listen and move and run, and ... I just like it."