Carolyn Adams, superlative artist of the Paul Taylor Dance Company has a small, slender, perfectly proportioned figure that gives her a distinctive lightness and makes her springy leaps seem all the more startling in the heights she attains.

Even in a company noted for its bouncy elevation she stands out - she takes off like a beach ball, and sometimes you think she's got built-in trampolines in place of soles. But she also has a special lyrical warmth and softness that Taylor has cannily exploited in the many parts he has created for her.

In today's dance world of nomadic careers and easily shifted allegiances, Adams is something of an anomaly.She's currently in her 14th season with the Taylor company, and she's never belonged to another troupe since she started with Taylor in 1965.

The superb Taylor group is now, as it always has been, a company of equals. As in Balanchine's New York City Ballet, which the Taylor company resembles in more ways than one on a much smaller scale and in a different idiom, no one gets "star" treatment or billing. In another sense, though, they're all stars, each one a virtuoso and a soloist, and certainly they're all individuals, as Adams so clearly illustrates.

No one could have been more surprised than Adams, however, when she was accepted into the troupe. "I was in my senior year at Sarah Lawrence College," she recalled a few days ago. "The previous year I'd spent in France and danced with a modern company there. Even so, I wasn't sure I'd have the courage to audition for Taylor, though I'd always heard his company was a relatively painless and even pleasant place to be. But when a notice of auditions appeared on the wall, I found myself tagging along with my college friends."

Two hundred aspiring young dancers showed up along with Adams. The auditions started at 1 p.m. and didn't break until just before 6. "There were six of us left from the eliminations, and we were about to do jumps, which was my best thing. But I was in panic - I was writing a paper on Harlem culture for a sociology course, and had made an appointment to interview a minister at 6, thinking I'd have loads of time. I told Paul, 'Look, I've got to leave.' Then he knocked me for a loop by saying to me, 'But you're the one I'm interested in."

She would have given anything to join the troupe, yet she turned the invitation down. "To my own great astonishment," she recalls, "I said I was three and a half years into college and couldn't see how I could stop now. To this day I don't know why I said it, the words were out of my mouth before I knew it. I guess it had been instilled in me for too many years that I needed to prepare myself for all eventualities."

But Taylor wouldn't be put off.He told her to come back after graduation, and immediately called his old friend Bessie Schoenberg, head of the dance department at Sarah Lawrence, and between them they arranged for Adams to spend 15 hours a week with Taylor learning repertory while she finished her schooling. She joined the company the next year, and the following season Taylor choreographed a major part specially for her in his epoch-making "Orbs," set to the late string quartets of Beethoven.

The "family" atmosphere of the close-knit Taylor company turned out to be a kind of reverberation of the staunch domesticity in which she was reared. She was born in New York City (she's the only New Yorker among Taylor's dancers) and grew up in Washington Heights: "I was really a small-town girl," she says. The whole Adams clan has an artistic bent. Her father, a former managing editor of the Amsterdam News, is a writer and publicist; her mother is a pianist and composer; and her one sister, Julie Adams Strandberg, heads the dance department at Brown University.

With a move to Harlem, the family founded the Harlem Dance Foundation in which all of them are active, pooling their talents in such projects as a community newsletter and an annual Christmas musical involving parents and children throughout the neighborhood.

Adams determined her career objective very early on. "I remember consciously knowing I wanted to be a dancer at 4, and I never wanted to be anything else. Interestingly, though, I wasn't carted off to ballet school. I never had the baby-ballerina syndrome or had visions of myself in tutus. My first teacher was Nelle Fisher, who choreographed for the Hamilton Trio on Sid Caesar's old. "Show of Shows.' My greatest early inspiration came from TV dancing and Gene Kelly movies."

During her years at Fieldston, the private high school she attended, she studied also with Martha Graham. "But I wasn't about to give up other school activities. I played basketball, I was on the hockey team, I was a cheerleader. As it turned out, it was all excellent training for the Taylor repertoire."

Nowadays she cultivates other interests, chiefly teaching, coaching dancers in the Taylor works staged for other companies, and painting, which she's taken up recently. But for the present, making dances of her own is not among her wishes. "I really have no interest in choreographing," she says."It's a very different, separate sort of endeavor from dancing, and at the moment, anyway, I have no desire to try it."

Despite the dance boom, Adams feels not everyone has tuned in to the modern dance wavelength as yet. "I still meet people who say, 'Oh, you're a modern dancer? Where are your go-go boots?'"

Once in a while she likes to bask in remembrances of the "good old days" of the Taylor troupe. "There really weren't all that good, of course, but it was exciting when the whole company, the dancers, all the personal luggage, the costumes, and a technical crew besides would pile into a station wagon and trek off to the whistle stops."

She's also glad, though, to have been part of the troupe's rise to international eminence, resulting in such experiences as the company's recent triumph in Leningrad, where Taylor and the whole company took 17 curtain calls.

Adams has featured roles in all three of the works the Taylor company will be presenting tonight in its final performance at the National Theater.