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Shall We Dance?

Most evenings after dinner, Ron and Mary Katherine Lucey, of Austin, TX, retire to their dimly lit living room to dance to the sounds of Sinatra. After a long day apart, the music and warm embrace help them reconnect. But while this is meant to be quiet time for the pair, Mary Katherine often babbles on. Ron takes this as a sign his 5-month-old daughter is enjoying her special time with Daddy.

Indeed, bonding is a wonderful benefit of dancing with your baby, say experts. Being held snugly allows her to feel the warmth of your body, smell your unique scent, and hear or feel your heartbeat. "I hold her cheek to cheek," says Lucey, "and she hangs onto my thumb with her little hand." Gentle music and movements also serve to soothe  -- in fact, most parents instinctively rock or sway when trying to comfort an upset or colicky baby.

As restful as a waltz around the room may be, your baby is actually learning with every step you take. As she feels your body moving hers in time to the beat, she gets her first "lessons" in meter, rhythm, and tempo  -- even if you don't have a highly developed sense of them yourself. Scientists and educators believe that early exposure to these elements of music may actually help children excel academically as well as musically later on. To sweep your little one off her feet:

[STYLE {PUT HER HEAD ON YOUR SHOULDER} {SECTION}] Or snuggle her under your chin. Drape her over your forearm or cradle her. Experiment to find a position that's comfortable for both of you. Until she can sit up on her own (by 6 or 7 months), always support her head and neck.

[STYLE {TAKE IT SLOW} {SECTION}] At least until she's 6 months old, when her neck muscles will be stronger. Some experts suggest starting out with the pace of a lullaby; you can reinforce the beat by tapping lightly on her back. Keep the baby close to you, and avoid jerky movements.

[STYLE {LET YOURSELF GO} {SECTION}] Don't know how to fox-trot? Improvise. Get up, turn on the music, and move. Form is much less important to your baby than any kind of fluid movement and the feeling of being held.

[STYLE {JAZZ THINGS UP} {SECTION}] By 9 months, most babies will have sufficient head control to be gently bounced, twirled, or dipped. As you try these livelier moves, hold her facing you, with one hand supporting her bottom and the other her neck and head. Or set her down on the floor, get on your knees, and dance on her level to encourage her to shake things up on her own.

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