Atlantic City was where he was first bewitched by Celeste, strolling as they did on the boardwalk in the moist July heat, talking of silly things like how they both loved the Ferris wheel and reading the comics each morning. l

Their first dates were at Lum's, back home, after the dance lessons at The Dance Factory in Arlington. She was the teacher, he the student and dance studio electrician who got his lessons free. Later, they would dance on Sunday nights at a studio in Bethesda and on one special weekend this fall, at Roseland in New York.

In November, when they were really in love, Celeste saw an ad in the paper. "She said," he remembers, "Hey, look at this.' And I said, 'Would you like to do that?' And she said 'Yeah.' And I said, 'Okay, solid. You got it."

So on New Year's Eve 40-year-oldl Bill Fosbrook, in his three-piece suit bought in Hamilton Township, N.J., and Celeste Flynn, 24, wearing a rhinestone-studded, fluffy white dress he bought her for Christmas, celebrated the night at Washington's Shoreham-Americana. It cost them $160. They came for the band; they came for the party; most of all they came to dance.

Barnee Breeskin's band breaks into "Hail to the Redskins" at just 10 minutes before midnight as a woman in a leopard gown that hugs her tightly, very tightly, breaks into an unrecognizable bump-and-grind version of a Redskins cheer. Nearby, a significantly overweight woman in an equally tight black, leather-like and plunging jump suit dances under the net of white balloons. A ladies' shoe is passed around for inspection at one table while at another, a woman grabs an empty bottle of wine by the neck, then complains generally of the service and specifically of the party favors.

"We haven't got any party hats or anything," she shouts. "What kind of place is this?"

This is the Blue Room of the Shoreham-Americana, celebrating its 50th anniversary with drifting balloons, an open bar, a good share of drunks, comedian Mark Russell, Jeane Dixon, and people who say, "If it's not swinging, we'll make it swing," and then in the next breath. "I can't believe this hick joint doesn't have napkins."

And there's Barnee Breeskin too, the big-band leader who once played night after night in the Blue Room and greeted young politicians like Hubert Humphrey with "Minnesota Hats Off to Thee."

And Lord, it's like the old times tonight. Breeskin is cooking, really cooking, just before midnight as the sequins and black tuxes do a sort of sardine shuffle on the crowded dance floor.

And, then, 1980. Dropped balloons. "Auld Lang Syne." Hugging and kissing Streamers. Champagne. Lots of Great Western champagne.

"The floor was too crowded," says Celeste. "When you're really into dancing, you like to have a little space. Most of the people here are people who have danced for years, but never really did it right."

She and Bill have sought refuge back at their table, No. 14 behind the big blue column. Instead of dancing, they whisper into each other's ears and kiss. She has glasses, long thin brown hair, a milky complexion and the look of the quiet girl in the back of the class. He has a full face, a thin, neatly trimmed mustache. He also has two children from a previous marriage.

But that was long ago, long before Feb. 5, 1977. That was the day Bill first saw Celeste, the day she was teaching the hustle in his class at The Dance Factory. In March, they talked. He thought she was nice.

And on April 23, he had his first private ballroom lesson with Celeste. He wanted to brush up on his dancing skills for the 85th anniversary ball of his local electricians' union. But more important, he liked his teacher.

"She had a way of making you feel . . .," he says, then falters. "Well, the best way I could put it was, comfortable. And easy to talk to."

"You know how there's certain kinds of people you meet that you can't hide things from?" says Celeste. "With Bill, it was one of those rare cases of communication."

Out on the dance floor, the crush continues. Noisemakers. Streamers. Woozy fox trots. At the tables, the dessert (pink, white and green fluff and ice cream, entitled L'Omelette Norveigienne) melts in puddles. So do the candle centerpieces, encircled with white carnations and holly.

Earlier, Jeane Dixon stood in the middle of the dance floor, predicting that most of the American hostages in Iran would be released but that six, seven or eight would stand trial this month. Hardly anybody could hear her over the noise." You know how people are when they drink too much," she says afterward.

Earlier, Mark Russell, sitting at his piano in front of two twinkling trees with white Christmas lights, conducted the Shoreham's Swizzlestick presidential poll. Applause meant approval.

Ted Kennedy got about half a dozen hands, Carter many more, Jerry Ford ("He always reminds me of the guy who answers the meat buzzer at the A&P," says Russell) almost none. But Rep. John Anderson of Illinois, a dark horse in most places, was the clear winner.

After the big band had played its last came coffee and Danish.

"Hey, good looking," says one male partygoer to a female partygoer, delivering what may be one of the first lines of the new decade. The woman is not amused.

"Stuck up," he says. "I can find better women than you."

Just torn streamers and broken balloons now, kicked aside by waiters who may be swearing that next year, by God, they're going to stay home New Year's Eve. There are cigarette butts and a harsh light, too, making the Blue Room not quite so blue as smoky and stale.

Celeste and Bill, still whispering at table 14, get up to leave. On the way, they stop on the empty littered dance floor and, without music and between rushing waiters, begin to waltz. Celest, on her toes, dips and sways beautifully.

A young woman in black stops and watches, captivated.

"That reminds me of an old Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie," she says. "Everyone is gone, the music has stopped and there they are on the dance floor -- still dancing."