Ballerina Fanny Elssler stood at the end of the receiving line yesterday evening at the German Embassy, looking as light as air in a gauzy white gown, her arm raised as though in greeting and flowers strewn at her feet.

"If nobody else needs her, I'd like to take her home with me," said Christopher Boatwright, who is the first American to dance a principal role for the Stuttgart Ballet. But Fanny - or rather the 1832 painting of her in the role of La Sylphide by German artist Karl Joseph Begas - was not available. After spending decades in storage at the Corcoran Gallery, she was recently auctioned to the Dance for Washington school and was just visiting the embassy for a special occasion - a reception in honor of the Stuttgart dancers.

Sharing the spotlight as guests of honor were board chairman Roger Stevens and artistic director Martin Feinstein of the Kennedy Center, both of whom were received into the German Order of Merit, Stevens as a commander and Feinstein as an officer. Presenting them the large, red, cross-shaped medals which go with the honor, German Ambassador Berndt von Staden said that they "can claim, separately and as a team to have transformed Washington into a cultural metropolis."

It was the third decoration Feinstein has received from a foreign government (Italy and France are the others), and he mentioned later in a private conversation that he keeps these and other awards "in my bar at home, so that I can get high without drinking." Steven didn't say how many he has received, and said that he has no special place to keep them, "but I know where they all are - there aren't many."

Prime ballerina Marcia Haydee stopped in briefly, looking as airy as the painting of Fanny Elssler but, unlike Elssler, not accompanied by a smiling cherub. After chatting for a while with guests, she disappeared. "She has to go to bed early," explained a colleague. "She's dancing tommorrow night."

The other dancers stayed longer, talking shop among themselves and with their fans - who are numerous and very demonstrative in Washington. The four-week stay here is clearly an exhausting one - they have less time off between performances here than at homes, and the stage floor in the Opera House is harder than the one in Stuttgart.But clearly they were having a good time.

"I just get in a taxi every morning and go out and ride and look around," said expatriate New Yorker Boatwright. "It's so beautiful here. CAPTION: Picture, Martin Feinstein and Marcia Haydee, by Linda Wheeler - The Washington Post