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Rockin' with the Wiggles

Vanessa Mendoza, 4, dances to the "Wiggles," at her home. Mendoza and her younger sister love the Wiggles and have been to concerts in the past.
Vanessa Mendoza, 4, dances to the "Wiggles," at her home. Mendoza and her younger sister love the Wiggles and have been to concerts in the past.
Lezlie Sterling, Sacramento Bee

Vanessa and Marissa Mendoza wiggled with excitement as their mother loaded a DVD into the player.

They knew what was coming. They couldn't help but dance, their tiny flip-flops beating a pat-pat-pat on the hardwood floor.

The Wiggles waved and said "Hello, everyone!" from the television screen, then launched into a catchy song. Vanessa, 4, and Marissa, 23 months, exploded into giggles and danced harder still.

"They'll dance during the whole thing," said the girls' mother, Teresa Mendoza.

A similar scene plays out in many living rooms throughout the region, the excitement heightening each year as the Wiggles tour rolls into concert venues like Arco Arena.

But before springing for pricey floor seats, parents will want to assess whether their child is ready for the experience. Not every child will respond well to the noise or crowds, or grasp that Mom and Dad can't afford all the Wiggles extras on display.

Chances are, your child will weather the experience with a little preparation. After all, parents are really the ones spreading the word about the band, thrilled with the educational overtones and whimsical, fun approach to learning through music.

A child's first rock band

Like a baby boomer listing members of the Beatles, Vanessa can identify the four original members of the Wiggles without pausing.

"Murray and Jeff and Greg and Anthony," she said.

And like the Fab Four, the Wiggles had humble beginnings.

Australians Anthony Field, Murray Cook and Greg Page met while studying early childhood development in college and formed the band while working as preschool teachers.

Field recruited Jeff Fatt, a friend who had played piano with him in a band called the Cockroaches, and they began playing music at kids birthday parties.

"We were just recording music and doing little shows around Sydney," Field said during a phone interview from London, where the group was preparing to launch the English leg of its tour.

The Wiggles' phenomenal success over the past 18 years has led to several hit television series and 23 million DVDs and 7 million CDs sold.

Always at the core of the Wiggles' work, however, is their background in early childhood development.

"We can really think about preschool children and the language they understand, and try to keep it fun," Field said.

Page retired in 2006 for medical reasons. His understudy, Sam Moran, has taken over the reins as the Yellow Wiggle.

What remains the same, however, is the band's dedication to its guiding principles, which Field attributes as another reason parents enjoy the quartet's work.

"It's safe, interactive and positive for their children," Field said. "It's a real holistic attitude."

'Bigger than life' in concert

Little Vanessa Mendoza says she intends to marry Field, the Blue Wiggle.

"We would be, like, mar-ried," she said, pronouncing the syllables very carefully, as if to impart the importance of the word.

Vanessa has been to two Wiggles concerts, while her little sister has been to one.

When asked if the concert was fun and if she liked seeing the Wiggles in person, she simply said, "Yeah."

Her grandmother, Irene Martinez, elaborated on the concert's appeal.

"It was so much fun," she said. "It was seeing the children's reaction that's what I enjoyed the most."

Steve and Catherine Sullivan of Sacramento, took their son and daughter to a Wiggles concert two years ago.

Son John, who at the time was just shy of 2 years old, loved the Wiggles' music and could turn any household item into a pretend guitar, Catherine Sullivan said.

The family enjoyed the concert, but John "was a little overwhelmed."

"I think it was kind of bigger than life for him," she said.

That reaction is understandable, said Janet Thompson, director of the Early Childhood Laboratory at the University of California, Davis.

How children react in kids concert venues will vary depending on the child's temperament, but the experience might be too much for a toddler to take in, she said.

(c) 2009, The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.).

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.