Dancers aren't the most obliging guests of honor for a party. They come late, and they come hungry.

So for a good part of the evening, the 150-or-so people who crowded the Champagne-Beaujolais Restaurant in the Washington Circle Hotel last night for the Fall Benefit of the Capitol Ballet Guild and Washington Pre-Schools Inc. had to content themselves with mere food and drink until ballerina Sandra Fortune and the other dancers of the Capitol Ballet arrived, fresh from their performance at Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater.

The guests, clad in garb that ranged from blue jeans to party clothes, ate cheese, pate and pastries and discussed just about everything except day care and ballet.

Not all of the guests, who paid $60 per person to attend, were totally familiar with the world of ballet. "I've always wanted to come to one of these things that say 'Closed: Private Party,'" said one man, searching for an ashtray. "It gave me a real thrill to walk through the door."

Just a few months ago, the very existence of Capitol Ballet was in doubt. The company had laid off its dancers and there were but vague plans for a future season. This year, with two $10,000 grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (one for performances, one to assist dance classes held in Anacostia for low-income children) and the hope of further aid from both the Endowment and private corporations, the company's future looks more secure. "We are alive and well," said Audrey Dickerson, President of the Guild, obviously proud and pleased with the company's achievements.

So was honorary co-chairperson Teena Watson, who was accompanied by her husband, presidential assistant Jack Watson. "It was a lovely evening," said the former Atlanta Ballet dancer, "and I'm glad to help in any way I can."