Washington dancers and dance enthusiasts gathered last night at the Renwick Gallery to honor the "second generation" of dancers who have worked in this city. The 1981 Metropolitan Dance Association Awards were presented to choreographers and educators Melvin Deal, Virginia Freeman, Choo San Goh, Naima Prevots and Maida Withers.

Noting that Washington is now a major dance center and the home of more than 60 dance groups, a proclamation by Mayor Marion Barry officially declaring the opening of National Dance Week in Washington was read. Emcee Sali Ann Kriegsman cited the awards recipients as "searchers" who have in common "an expansive view of dance as an art."

Melvin Deal, founder of African Heritage Dancers and Drummers, spoke passionately of the youth of the city "who will be here when all of us are gone." Virginia Freeman, currently movement consultant to Arena Stage and the Folger Theatre, was cited as "a pioneer woman with strength and courage who has never been afraid of anything new."

In presenting the award to Choo San Goh, associate artistic director of the Washington Ballet, Mary Day, the ballet's director, said that Goh's contributions to dance have gone beyond the local scene to provide Washington with national and international prominence.

Dance educators Naima Prevots and Maida Withers were honored for their refusal to accept the status quo in their common art, and for their concomitant search for new directions for exploration. Prevots, founder of the dance program at American University, exhorted the audience to fight for a dance identity for Washington "as a city in and of itself, and not as a neighbor of New York," and for vigilant self-criticism in the belt-tightening decade of the '80s. George Washington University teacher and choreographer Maida Withers spoke of the "total and full joy" dance had brought to her life.