There were people in Picasso T-shirts tap-dancing. There were babies in rhinestone-studded sunsuits. There were housewives in fishnet, and schools of college students, and even a tap-dancing gorilla, but there were not, alas, 2,000 such people at the Jefferson Jefferson Memorial, which is what Charles Stinson needed to break the record for the greatest assembladge of tap dancers ever.

It was an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records that Stinson has his eye on, and although the 500 tap dancers who counted off at the Jefferson Memorial yesterday fell somewhat short of the 1,801 who turned out in Minneapolis a year ago to set the world record, disappointment did not dull his desire. "I'm going to get in thereyet!" cried Stinson. He was doing it, he said, for history.

Maybe it looked like one tiny tap in the vaudeville routine of life to the unitiated, but to Charles Stinson, it was a goal, a dream, a chance to forge a legacy for his 12-year-old son. "I don't have any titles to hand down to him," said the owner of the hairdressing salon known as Charles the First, not to mention a swimming pool with an acrylic painting of Fred Astaire peering up jauntily from the bottom. "But I can give him this."

Someday, perhaps, there will be vans full of rental tap-dancing shoes available for a tap up and down the corridors of power. Someday, maybe they'll be tapping up and down 19th Street, tripping rollerskaters. Someday, God forbid, there will be disco tap-dancing. But someday was not yesterday, though the crowd gave it everything they had to the tune of "You're a Grand Old Flag" under the direction of tap-dance master Joe Jeff, who somehow managed to get 500 people doing a semblance of the same routine.

"Turn, turn, turn and smile!" said Jeff, who looked like an elfin Elton John in top hat and tails. "Shuffle, hop, step!" They shuffled, they hopped and they stepped, some in taps, others in tennis shoes, and if they weren't putting on the ritz, they were having a swell time. They practiced faithfully, they posed for pictures, and Joe Jeff even coached the audience in how to ask for an encore.

"Say it like you have to have it to survive," Jeff told the audience."When we stop, there has to be a moment of divastating silence. You are awed."

Awed, flawed, what the hell, the sun was shining, and at the end, as Joe Jeff flung himself into the gorilla's arms, there was wild applause. First live applause, then recorded applause. "Listen to this," said Jeff, who teaches tap dancing at George Washington University and the Open University. "This is for you."

After that they tried to break the world's record for the number of people sitting in each other's lap in a circle. They managed over 320 and this was proclaimed a new record. A mighty roar of triumph went up from the seated. A pink balloon sailed heavenward. Perhaps some of the sitters went home to their Guinness and looked up the recored for "the highest recorded number of people who have demonstrated the physical paradox of all being seated without a chair in an unsupported circle." Perhaps they discovered that that number is actually 3,394, established in Cranbrook, British Columbia, in 1978.

Perhaps they didn't care. Triumph after all, like a warm day at summer's end, is a joy that is quickly faded and who, after all, would want to set any sort of record in Cranbrook, British Columbia?