Forty years before the public-that's kid's stuff for the Children's Dance Theatre, which was organized in 1949 by Virginia Tanner.

Since then, thousands of children have been given roots and wings in Tanner's style of creative movement, plus an enduring philosophy of dance, which more often than not has carried over into their philosophy of life.The occasion calls for a program and a celebration.

The program will be on Friday at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater and again on Saturday at 2 p.m. Tickets will be sold at the door; to arrange in advance, call 581-7374.

Events of the weekend, to which all CDT alumni are invited, include a luncheon at the University of Utah Alumni House on Friday at noon, and a master class to be taught by Jacque Lynn Bell on Saturday from 9:30-11 a.m., at the Virginia Tanner Creative Dance Center on campus. Finally, a social and light buffet will take place at the Devereaux Mansion, 340 W. South Temple, from 5 to 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.

"How do you teach a child to dance? With love, magic, wonder and art," was Miss Virginia's style, and the Creative Dance studio continues in that tradition, building upon Tanner's philosophy and movement technique. Tanner took her little company of dancers on nationwide tours during the late '50s and early '60s, receiving widespread acclaim and becoming a national and even international authority on children's dance, before her death in 1979. Her teaching was inimitable, her personality incandescent.

Since 1979, Mary Ann Lee has been artistic director of CDT, continuing the tradition with her own special warmth and inspiration. "When I stepped into Virginia's magic shoes, I knew that her feet and mine were different sizes," said Lee. "But I knew that the philosophy had to be continued and the program expanded to include many of the people that Virginia had so beautifully inspired and trained."

These ambitions have been well realized during Lee's tenure. During the past 10 years the Tanner Program has grown to include almost 800 students and a faculty of 20 teachers and musicians, plus other staff members. CDT has performed in Sweden, London, at Wolftrap Farm Park near Washington, D.C., and at Stanford University. In 1991, along with the U. of U. department of modern dance, CDT will host the fifth Dance and the Child International Conference in Salt Lake City.

The 40th anniversary concert will be a retrospective of highlights, "a program woven together with the true story of the company's incredible dance history in Utah," said Lee.

Among programmed works are two dances based on stories of Hans Christian Andersen. "The King's New Clothes" is a very early Tanner dance about the vane king who was persuaded to parade naked before his subjects. "We have saved all of our old costumes, nothing was thrown away, and Cynthia Turner rebuilt this year's `King' costumes from the old ones," said Lee.

In "The Nightingale" an Oriental king learns how to tell the real from the imitation, and how art inspires the spirit.

" `The Buttermilk Tree' grew from an illustrated poem that describes a child growing from infancy to maturity. Many years ago, Doris Humphrey handed the book to Virginia and told her it would make a good dance for the children," said Lee.

"It has been one of our finest pieces, which we repeated on our 25th anniversary, also. It shows how Virginia began. This dance celebrates the innocence of each newborn thing, which grows into its potential. It's about motherhood. Virginia made the dance right after she had her daughter Ginger, and she danced the mother and Ginger was the baby. We are using 85 dancers in all, including four generations, to show the spiritual progression through life. (CDT teacher) Ann Cannon's mother, who is 87, will even walk through.

" `Ryoan-ji' is a dance by Jacque Lynn Bell, who started dancing with Virginia when she was two and a half. She says she can't really pinpoint what Virginia gave her, because she never was without it. Her piece is inspired by a Zen temple in Kyoto, Japan, which for her captured the essence of nature."

Also on the program is "I am Magic" and "Together," performed by the Repertory Dance Theater and CDT. RDT has its roots in CDT, for it was through Tanner's persuasion that the Rockefeller Foundation awarded the grant that resulted in RDT's creation.

Lee recalled her own early years with Miss Virginia, her first lessons at the McCune School. "When I look back I see a sort of golden aura," she said. "It's not so very different with our kids. The studio is a haven, and they walk in a kind of sacred place. They learn immediately that performance is important; that they must behave professionally, with discipline, and live up to expectations and trust.

"Love has been coming at these children all these years, not criticism. They are beautiful. I am always surprised how well they deal with each other, without selfishness or anger, but very maturely. There is such intrinsic joy in chidren and in being with them. They are so inventive, so creative, they come up with things that adults would never think of."

In a poem, Deborah Smoot has summed up the feelings of CDT alumni: ". . . For 40 years we've danced . . . Some of us alone, Some of us together, Some of us only in our hearts - It makes no difference really, We will always `dance' . . . Because when we understood how to see with our magic eye, nothing was ever quite the same. `And look with your magic eye,' she said, And we did . . . And we saw . . . and we still see."