Although many health clubs offer massage in the Washington area, membership is often required. However, the public is welcome at such clubs as the Watergate (where many of the dancers at the Kennedy Center come for rubdowns), $18 a half-hour, $30 an hour, including all facilities; Elizabeth Arden (women only), $20 for 50 minutes; Evans House of Beauty at the Irene Apartments, $10 for 45 minutes; and the European Health Spa; $7 to $8 for a half-hour.

Massages are available through the Potomac Massage Therapy Institute, 421 Butternut St. NW (829-4201); the Center for Healing Arts, 1449 Rhode Island Ave. NW (232-3040); Essential Therapy Center, 2013 Columbia Rd. NW (232-6663), and YES, 1035 31st St. NW (338-6969).

The institute's booklet, "Baltimore-Washington Healing Resources," listing private practitioners and other holistic health providers, is available from the institute for $5.95. Or local association officers Kelly Russell or Kristen Manns may be contacted through the institute for names of practicing members. Rates are from $10 to $40 an hour, depending on experience of the practitioner and type of massage.

When you go for a massage, members of the American Massage and Therapy Association recommend you:

Check if the place is clean.

Ask for credentials. Assoication members who have completed 1,000 hours of approved study use the designation Ms.T. (certified massage therapist or technician); those who additionally have completed three years of professional work and passed an exam use R.M.T. (registered massage therapist).

Expect the practitioner to wear a proper uniform.

Note whether the practitioner appears confident in what he or she is doing.

Make sure to point out any health condition or injury the practitioner should be aware of before the massage; the practitioner should ask you before beginning.

If you want to learn how to give a massage:

The Potomac Massage Therapy Institute is offering a basic course ( $625) this fall for those wanting to work with family or friends or prepare for employment in a health club, and an advanced course ( $300) for those with a professional goal. Each course runs 500 hours.

For the non-professional, the institute is also offering a course on baby massage ("to nourish them through touch and sensation"), $7.50 per class; a class for pregnant women (aimed at relieving "leg aches, fatigue and even depression,"), $75 per couple, and an introductory workshop, $35.

The Center for the Healing Arts is planning courses aimed at the non-professional who wants to practice on family and friends. A two-hour evening class for eight weeks ( $45) is scheduled to begin in later September. A one-time, all-day class ( $30) is set for Nov. 4.

A variety of fall classes is available at the Open University, 3333 Connecticut Ave. NW (966-9606), $12. Classes also are given at the Essential Therapy Center, YES, and occasionally by individual practitioners.