The discussion grew heated at the Department of Labor last week as several arts enthusiasts struggled with a philosophical question.

"The bestest thing about dancing is kicking," asserted 4-year-old Armone Washington, as he executed a Rockette's-style high kick.

"Turning is the best thing," argued classmate Felipa Garcia, 4, who stood up for a quick spin.

However, 4-year-old Elana Gilmore came up with an answer that pleased everyone. "The best thing about dancing," she said, "is it's fun."

These children are among 70 pre-schoolers who have learned the joys of dance this summer through a special program at the Department of Labor day-care center. The center occupies a wing of the building and provides day care for children of Labor department employes (or federal and city government employes if space is available).

"Unlike public school, our kids come here year-round," explained center director Susan C. Brenner. "We wanted to do something to make the summer different, and something that would aid their physical development."

Under the leadership of Treanna Reid, a professional dancer and the daughter of one of the center's teachers, the eight-week program started in June. Every child, from 18-month-old toddlers to 5-year-olds, took part in dance class each day.

"At first the toddlers couldn't even pick up their feet," said Reid, 19, a sophomore at the University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and a graduate of the Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts. "Some days we'd just work on making shapes with our bodies or clapping with the music, trying to learn about rhythm.

"But now they can pick up their music cues, and even the little ones can move to the music. They can make a circle and dance around, or kick their legs up all the way across the floor by themselves. They've really surprised me, and I'm proud of them."

The dance class also has helped dissolve some shyness, added Brenner.

"For the first couple of weeks one 3-year-old was painfully shy -- not wanting to speak to adults," she said; "To see that child dancing today, laughing and running across the floor, it's hard to believe it's the same person.

"I've learned that taking up dance at an early age will help children later because they'll have listened to all kinds of music and will be able to count out rhythms," said Reid, who has been dancing since age 3.

"Most pre-schoolers like to move to music. I don't think there's such a thing as being too young to dance."