One of the most treasurable aspects of dance in Washington is the sheer variety of artistic traditions it represents across all cultural boundaries. This was the accent last night at the Terrace Theater, where the Kennedy Center presented a new edition of its continuing series "Washington, Front and Center! -- A Celebration of Dance," this time under the rubric "Personal Journeys." For the first time, the fare included jazz tap dance and one of the great classical dance forms of India.

The evening began with "A Life in the Nation's Capitol {sic}," a solo for Boris Willis choreographed by Liz Lerman, one of Washington's best-known dancer-choreographers and an indefatigable champion of the universality of dance. The "life" alluded to in the title reflected the harshest facets of the contemporary Washington experience. To acrid, spiky music by George Crumb (excerpts from "Black Angels," in a recording by the Kronos Quartet), Willis surged his way through a tour-de-force of violent struggle against unseen, implacable forces of destruction. There were no specifics; the piece isn't a tract but an essay on feeling. Dignity, intensity and courage were the qualities projected in Willis's stirring performance.

Later in the program, another Lerman opus -- this one a group piece involving her Dance Exchange troupe, including some of its senior members -- recapitulated some of the choreographer's most characteristic devices. "The Perfect Ten" was a typical Lerman conflation of abstract pattern, mimetic gesture and confessional outpourings. The work was commissioned by the "Serious Fun!" Festival at New York's Lincoln Center, as Lerman explains in the course of the dance. Asked to make the piece 10 minutes long, she extrapolated from this to a generalized, autobiographical theme for the work -- each of the six dancers, including herself, would ruminate about what "10 minutes" had meant in their lives. One recalled his escape from death in an accident that was fatal for others; Lerman fantasized about a perfect 10 minutes of familial euphoria; and Willis, remembering that his childhood idea of "10" was "a big one next to a little nothing," mused on about personal identity and parental expectation. As happens with Lerman's work, the piece was almost mysteriously poignant, touching beyond the apparent capacity of its surface detail to make it so.

Johne Forges was the jazz tap artist, accompanied by a trio of instrumentalists. Born in New Orleans and later a student of tap master Henry Le Tang, he's had a distinguished career as a touring soloist here and abroad, as well as experience in films, television and theater. For the past decade, he's performed regularly at Washington's Cafe Lautrec. A genteel, engaging presence, Forges started off with a sand dance number and some vocalizing, neither of which seemed his strong suit. He was wonderfully effective, however, in an up-tempo entry where the sound of his taps on the naked wood of the Terrace flooring was crisp, clear and rhythmically bracing. In this context, he demonstrated a real flair for syncopated phrasing and superswift taps close to the floor. Best of all was his amiable exchange of riffs with pianist Calvin Jones, bassist James King and drummer Nassier Abaday.

Nabaghana Shyam Singha, whose specialty is the classical tradition of India's Manipur and who transplanted Nritya Rangam, a troupe he founded in New Delhi, to Washington in 1983, was represented by both a group work and a solo for himself. "Vasanta Ras Lila," the ensemble work, featured Singha as Lord Krishna and five women of his troupe as Krishna's beloved Radha and her attendants. Gorgeously costumed, including brilliant cylindrical skirts for the women, the piece celebrates the advent of spring in movement that is predominantly lyrical and fluid -- curvaceous bends, tilts, sways and swooping arcs are main motifs. Singha's solo, "Pung Cholom," is, by contrast, a virtuosic drum dance, in which his hands fly prestissimo from one end of the horizontally suspended drum to the other, and he lifts and lowers the instrument in sweeping parabolas as he himself spins, leaps and stamps while playing it.

The evening's triumphant finale featured choreography by Assane Konte, the Senegalese founder of Washington's notable KanKouran West African Dance Company. A thunderous, thrillingly polyrhythmic drum volley -- by a contingent of players led by Abdou Kounta -- was the prelude to "Mandiani," an initiation dance of West Africa, here performed by five men and five women. In overall form, like many other West African dances, the piece resembled the Western world's baroque concerto grosso -- an orchestral unit (the 10 dancers) from which individual components (the dancers as soloists or duettists) break away into virtuosic, quasi-improvisatory forays, only to melt back eventually into the whole. In the dance, however, this configuration also speaks strongly of the assertion of individuality within a bonded community. The KanKouran cast gives the piece an athletic electricity that strikes one as a distinctively American contribution to its impact.

Much credit for the splendid program is due to the event's coordinator, Naima Prevots, a dancer, teacher and dance historian who's been a prime mover on the Washington scene for many years. Two more dance programs in the "Washington, Front and Center!" series are scheduled for this season, one in March and one in May of the coming year.