Free Association is not just a way of thinking. It's also the name of an improvisational dance company which, under director Margaret Ramsey, has been performing for several years in the Washington area, most recently yesterday afternoon at Grace Church.

As in good jazz, the object of a Free Association performance is to keep the river of inspiration flowing, rather than to make an esthetic statement for all eternity. While one or two dancers may be on stage doing a "riff," maybe stamping out demons or moving their arms like semaphores, or playing "Bolero" on a brass candle snuffer, other may be sitting on the sidelines just watching, waiting for the spirit to lift them and carry them in.

Watching this work is like watching the creative process in its raw state, and the kinds of Olympian value judgments critics are supposed to dispense don't seem particularly applicable. Some impulses fizzle out; others build and gains momentum, producing beautiful, if transitory, sequences of movement. The fascination comes in watching an impulse find and follow its own intrinsic logic.

The exhilaration Free Association audiences experience comes from exposure to the process and to minds (and bodies) that are adventurous, inventive and surprisingly honest.