DANCE IS the most ephemeral of art forms, so it stands to reason that Washington's dancers and choreographers tend to appear and disappear, to form companies and then disband them, to join forces or suddenly strike out on their own. And aside from a few reliable performance venues -- area colleges and universities, Dance Arts Moving Arts, and the all- important Dance Place -- local movers and shakers must constantly ferret out cheap and theatrically acceptable spaces in which to present their work.

To make concert-going a trifle easier, herewith a list of places where dance happens on a regular basis, followed by a by-no-means-exhaustive list of area companies and performers currently tapping, shimmying and pirouetting their hearts and bodies out.

PLACES

DANCE ARTS MOVING ARTS at the Church of the Epiphany, 1317 G St. NW. 737-1662. Colette Yglesias, director. Ongoing series of performances and master classes.

THE DANCE PLACE -- 3225 Eighth St. NE. 269-1600. Carla Perlo, artistic director. Ambitious, weekly performance series by local and out-of-town artists.

JOY OF MOTION -- 1643 Connecticut Ave. NW. 387-0911. Michelle Ava and Robert Teri, directors. Occasional performance series.

HAND CHAPEL at Mt. Vernon College, 2100 Foxhall Rd. NW. 331-3467. Carla Huebner, director. Ongoing series of dance and music events.

BALLET COMPANIES

CHAMBER BALLET -- 745-3533. Rex Bickmore, artistic director. Small, new ensemble specializing in contemporary chamber ballets by its director.

MARYLAND YOUTH BALLET (and Academy), 7649 Old Gerogetown Rd., Bethesda. 652-2232. Tensia Fonseca, director. Highly respected training ground for promising performers. One recent alumna, Julie Cox, landed featured role in "Dancers," the latest Baryshnikov film.

WASHINGTON BALLET (and School), 3515 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 362-3606. Mary Day, founder/director. Seasonal performances of classical and contemporary works by George Balanchine, Paul Taylor, resident choreographer Choo San Goh and others, as well as an annual production of "The Nutcracker." Alumni include ABT's Kevin MacKenzie, Amanda McKerrow and Bonnie Moore.

ETHNIC COMPANIES

AFRICAN HERITAGE DANCERS AND DRUMMERS -- 4018 Minnesota Ave. NE. 399-5252. Melvin Deal, artistic director. The legendary Deal, who has been researching and presenting programs of African culture for many a year, knows just how to put together an authentic, stirring show using the most limited of resources.

KANKOURAN WEST AFRICAN DANCE COMPANY -- 554-7612. Assane Konte, director. Traditional West African dancing and drumming performed in a flashy, crowd-pleasing way.

SPANISH DANCE SOCIETY -- 364-0700. Marina Keet, artistic director. An exuberant group, usually augmented by stellar guest artists, performs classical and folk dances from all regions of Spain.

KOTOBUKI KAI -- 779-1488. Yoko Harada King, artistic director. Traditional dances of Japan, with great attention paid to costuming and decor.

MEMORY OF AFRICAN CULTURE -- 832-8240. Djimo Kouyate, artistic director. Kouyate, an expert musician and repository of Senegalese lore, heads this gifted troupe of dancers and musicians.

ANNA MARTINEZ DANCE COMPANY -- 931-0324. Martinez and her guitarist husband, Paco de Malaga, focus on the Flamenco style.

ODADAA! -- 768-4839. Yacub Addy, director. Troupe of drummers and dancers specializing in the movement and music of Ghana.

RAQUEL PENA SPANISH DANCE COMPANY -- Veteran flamenco performer and associates.

JAZZ AND TAP COMPANIES

FEET FIRST DANCERS (and School), 7649 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda. 656-9076. Carol Vaughn, director. Spunky troupe headed by a fervent believer in the old (but never tired) hoofing style.

MOMENTUM DANCE THEATER -- 543-0945. Roberta Rothstein, director. Though Rothstein and company also perform her heavy-handed modern dances, they excel in the swing and the strut.

MODERN/POST-MODERN COMPANIES

ARLINGTON DANCE THEATER (and School), 2401 Columbia Pike, Arlington. 920-4340. Kathryn and Ken Fredgren, directors. Seasonal performances of middle-of-the-road modern and jazz pieces.

DC CONTEMPORARY DANCE THEATER -- 289-6900. Mia Hisaka, artistic director. Powerhouse multiracial troupe (they seem to be patterning themselves after the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater) performs a grabbag of works by local and international artists.

DANCE CONSTRUCTION COMPANY -- 676-6577 or 522-7060. Maida Withers, artistic director. Withers -- one of DC's most ardent supporters and creators of avant-garde art -- and her troupe present work that is often abstract, occasionally puzzling, but always ambitious.

IMPROVISATIONS UNLIMITED -- 454-4847. Meriam Rosen, artistic director. One of two resident companies at the University of Maryland, this is a group that has been trained expertly in the rigorous and exciting art of improvisation. Their repertoire includes works by Kei Takei, Dan Wagoner, Jerry Pearson and other fine choreographers.

LIZ LERMAN/EXCHANGE -- 229-8036. Liz Lerman, artistic director. Political, humorous, accessible, highly verbal, Lerman's works are always provocative. Her current company shines brightly.

MARYLAND DANCE THEATER -- 454-3399. Larry Warren, artistic director. In residence at the University of Maryland, this strong company performs a repertoire that favors highly theatrical and lyrical modern dances.

LESA McLAUGHLIN AND DANCERS -- 269-1600. Lesa McLaughlin, artistic director. In residence at the Dance Place, this young troupe performs the athletic, nervy, but often underdeveloped work of its director.

CLAUDIA MURPHEY DANCE COMPANY -- 425-3909. Claudia Murphey, artistic director. MTV-style choreography, complete with neon, chic haircuts and costumes and popular contemporary scores.

PERLO/BLOOM & COMPANY -- 269-1600. Carla Perlo and Steve Bloom, directors. In residence at the Dance Place, this company of excellent performers presents dances by Perlo and a variety of local and national artists, and music by percussionist Bloom.

JAN TAYLOR DANCE THEATER -- 544-2841. Jan Taylor, director. Mixed bag of modern works. Last year she danced with a python.

TOE JAM AND FRESH JELLY -- 667-1301 or 544-4400. Donna Brandenburg-Gangloff and Mary Williford, directors. Bradenburg-Gangloff and Williford, two dynamite dancers, perform a thoughtful collection of duets and solos by various choreographers.

UPRIGHT VERTEBRATES -- 270-4445. Dianne Hunt and Ron Paul, directors. Another interesting partnership, Hunt and Paul dance and create works together.And they could not be more different.

DANIEL WEST DANCERS -- 966-5936. Daniel West, artistic director. West is a craftsman first and foremost, who knows how to merge music and movement in a slick, electric way. He's also daring in his choice of subject matter; it's mostly very '80s, very angst-ridden, troubling. His company is absolutely mesmerizing.

WENDY WOODSON & PRESENT COMPANY -- 387-0826. Woodson's spare, mysterious pieces combine text and gestural movement in often intriguing ways.

SHARON WYRRICK/FULL CIRCLE -- 232-7169. Sharon Wyrrick, artistic director. Wyrrick, a wonderful dancer able to project both fragility and steely determination, has developed into one of D.C.'s most imaginative artists. Her dances are eccentric, witty, formally inventive, meditative. And what an ear she has for musical effects.

CHOREOGRAPHERS

DAVID APPEL: Some have accused him of navel-gazing, but others find Appel's repetitive, minimalist movement explorations fascinating.

BETH BURKHARDT: A veteran of the local dance scene, Burkhardt has most recently been working in an intensely ritualistic style. She's also a superb costume designer.

TISH CARTER: Carter is as much a visual artist as a choreographer. Her dances often remind me of dreams, so filled are they with magical objects and surreal images.

MERIAM ROSEN: Searing renderings of troubled relationships and emotional states, brought to vivid life by means of clear, uncompromising movement and effective choice of music.

UNCATEGORIZABLE

D.C. YOUTH ENSEMBLE -- 393-DCYE or 727-3412. Carol Foster, artistic director. Foster has worked miracles with her troupe of area youth. Disciplined, feisty and talented, these young dancers, singers and actors present spectaculars that deal with black history and culture in many different ways.

DANCERS OF THE THIRD AGE -- 229-8036. Don Zuckerman, director. One arm of Liz Lerman's Dance Exchange organization, this marvelous troupe is made up of dancers ranging in age from 60-92.

PRIMARY MOVERS (company and school), 4201 l6th St. NW. 829-3300. Rima Faber, director. Faber's ensemble of pre-adolescent dancers avoids the cutesy in favor of timely, humorous works. The kids provide the basis for the dances, and Faber does the rest.