Two of the area's less-conventional dance troupes displayed their latest wares this past weekend, testifying to both the breadth and daring of local activity.

Free Association, a group of six dancers which performed at the Washington Project for the Arts (WPA) Friday and Saturday nights, specializes in collective improvisation. Their dances are not choreographed in advance, but from moment to moment as they proceed in "real time." Forms and shapes evolve in a manner suggested by the group's title, in a chain of associative linkages from one idea to the next.

A pair of musicians on guitar, recorder and percussion furnish a soundscape which helps to sustain and unify the dance textures. The dancers also utilize costumes props' and vocal sounds including words as part of their multi-dimensional constructions.

The success of such an enterprise depends largely on the rapport of the performers and their powers of mutual invention Free Association, which has worked as a group under Margaret Ramsay's direction since 1974, does well in both departments. Saturday night's performance illustrated some of the outfalls of the approach - insert passages, failed whimsy, strained connections - but also a good deal of the flair and imagination hold on audiences. Two new dancers - Wendy Woodson and Jim Brown - seem nicely acclimated to the spirit of the Free Association regulars. Margaret Ramsay, Barbara Mueller, Michelle Gordon and Jack Guidone.

Four members of the Feet First troupe astonished puzzled and entertained unsuspection passersby in front of The Washington Post building at lunch hour Friday. Many did not know whether to be amused or alarmed at the sight confronting them four oddballs yelling, prancing and gesticulating in outlendish costumes.

Feet First has previously performed in a Metro station, on the Capitol shops, and in other [WORD ILLEGIBLE] sites. They are trained dancers, but they prefer public spaces to the artifice of a theater, and the audience they seek is literally the man (or woman) in the street. The theme or Friday's diverting effort was dance as personal salvation. Grand Ole Opry

While Saturday's rain bogged down the American Folklife Festival outdoors, indoors at the Capital Centre there was pure Americana.

The Grand Ole Opry Stars on Tour, Part II, charmed close to 14,000 people in two shows and proved that bonafide country music is alive and well and popular in the Maryland suburbs.

A disappointing (but not disappointed) after afternoon audience of 3,400 started clapping at 2 o'clock when the home-based Ralph Case Cloggers opened with some traditional folk dancing. From then on, it was entertainment that Grand Ole Opry was. As always, that meant 15 minutes on stage, then off while the next act practically climbed over the preceding group's back on its way to the microphones.

And on stage they came, David Houston, Bill Carlisle, Red "I'm a Truck" Sovine, Washington's Benny Dean, the homegrown Bluegrass Cardinals and comedian Jerry Clower. Clower, whose cornpone humor has sold over a million and a half albums over a long career, came out to give the crowd a breather. His straw-filled "Clower Power" served as a light buffer between bands.

Back to the music with Stonewall Jackson, Del Reeves, Farron Young and Jeanne Pruett, who elicited a collective sigh with her teary "Satin Sheets."

It was close to 4 o'clock when Dickey Lee performed his new single "Peanut Butter" ("I ask myself over and over/Am I your friend or am I your lover/Spreadin' it around one to another/Spreadin' it around like peanut butter") and Skeeter Davis ouivered through "End of the World," which was as innocently heartbreaking Saturday as when it sold a million plus records in the mid-'60s.

Backstage, boots, denim vests, and razor-trimmed sideburns passed in review while on stage local heroes. The Seldom Scene did an extraordinary version of "I Know You Rider."

And the hits just kept on coming. The Osborne Brothers ripped through "Midnight Flyer" and "Ruby" which sounded like a hog call scored for bluegrass band. Don Gibson offered his legendary "Oh Lonesome Me" and Dottie West began her set with "Country Sunshine," Coca-Cola's national anthem a few years back. Finally, Larry Gatlin, who looks like a New Yorker's idea of a rodeo star, brought down the house with "Broken Lady," "I Don't Want to Cry," and his newly released "Love Is Just a Game." It was approaching 6 o'clock when all the stars gathered on stage for the grand (Ole Opry) finale.

For the first time all afternoon everyone took a deep breath. In two hours it would be time for the second show.