THE D.C. Youth Ensemble is one of this city's performing arts treasures. The brainchild of teacher, choreographer and director Carol Watkins Foster, this group of kids, adolescents and young adults from various District schools has, over the past few years, developed into one of the most disciplined and vivacious around. They've brought their material to schools, appeared on many a local stage, even opened for Jennifer Holiday during her recent appearance at the Washington Hilton.

Foster has not only whipped these kids into shape, she's given them wide-ranging material to also educate their brains and bodies. While she's come up with some wonderfully jazzy revues, her most memorable shows have been those that incorporate monologues, music and movement and deal with issues provocatively. The most unforgettable of these has been "Minstrelcy," a close look at one of the strangest popular art forms in American theatrical history. To see these young black faces "blacked up" with traditional minstrel makeup and to watch them reenact many a mocking song-and-dance routine is moving indeed.

This weekend, the ensemble appears at Dance Place on a double bill with the Andrew Cacho African Drummers and Dancers, performing excerpts from a number of Foster's creations, among them "Five, Six, Seven, Eight," "The Box" and "I Traded In My Designer Brain for a J.C. Penney Heart."

D.C. YOUTH ENSEMBLE -- Saturday and Sunday at The Dance Place, 3225 Eighth St. NE. Call 269-1600.