"Yowza, yowza," someone muttered, although there were no nefarious Gig Young characters in sight. A pinched smile creased a face or two, but otherwise,the mostly young crowd at elan Saturday night seemed solemnly resolved, pacing nervously on padded sneakers. They were steeling themselves for the beginning of the Easter Seal 24-Dance-A-Thon.

The Dance-A-Thon is held semiannually to raise funds for the D.C. Society for Crippled Children. This time out, there were 19 couples who had taken pledges from local businesses and private citizens based on their ability to boogie, hustle, twist, frug and ultimately remain dancing long enough to reach the target of $15,000.

While it wasn't exactly a "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" affair (there were two-minute breaks per hour and four meals served), the evening did have its pitfalls. By one of those cruel twists of fate that often fall upon people trying to do a good deed, time itself was playing a dirty trick: Daylight savings time extended the 24-hour dance-a-thon to 25.

At 7:31 precisely, the music of The Jacksons gushed from the speakers, and they were off. No. 8 threw caution to the waitresses, while No. 14 appeared to be pacing himself, bending his knees slowly and gazing into the wall mirrors. After a while, when excitement yielded to monotony, the group began clapping together and formed a circle for several soloists.

"There's one girl here from the Canadian Embassy with $3,000 in pledges. We intend to hold her up if necessary," said Luanne Gibbons, director of development for the D.C. Society for Crippled Children. Gibbons, who had toiled for six weeks soliciting pledges, contributions for door prizes and food for participants, was bouncing with energy. "If legal and moral, we've tried it," she noted with a laugh.

By 2 a.m. the dancers had been engulfed by the regular Saturday night patrons, and several local TV news personalities had dropped by. The next day, as part of the grand finale, Canadian Ambassador Peter M. Towe, who had several pledges of his own, joined the participants for a victory dance that wound its way through the aisles of elan.

At the end of the Dance-A-Thon, John Duncan and Charmaine Coleman, two children from the society, arrived. As the participants gathered around them, the sense of fun and excitemant gave way to a moment in which the real meaning of the past hours shone through.