IN THIS TIME of war and worry, we all need at least a temporary escape. From an entertainment perspective, it's hard to think of anything more soothing than a few hours spent in the company of American Ballroom Theater. Settle back as these championship-level couples swirl and swoon through a seamless medley of waltzes, tangos and other social dances and you're suddenly transported to a trouble-free realm.

American Ballroom Theater was founded in 1984 by Pierre Dulaine and Yvonne Marceau, the renowned ballroom/adagio team who appeared with the troupe until they joined the recent Broadway production of "Grand Hotel." The company presents familiar "touch dances" in a thoroughly original format. One minute you feel as if you're in the midst of some elegant, naturally unfolding revel; then you realize you're watching a carefully choreographed show. Like John Curry's late, lamented ice dancing ensemble, this is a company that turns a flashy form into art of the subtlest variety.

In its third Kennedy Center appearance, Ballroom Theater will present "The Rainbow Room," John Roudis's compendium of 10 social dances of the 1930s and '40s reminiscent of those bewitching Astaire-Rogers numbers; "Tango and Waltz," company member Gary Pierce's elegant suite of American and European dances set in 3/4 time; and Broadway choreographer Graciela Daniele's "Presley Pieces," both a send-up of and a tribute to Elvis's music and the moods it engendered in countless teenagers. This last piece is something of a departure for the troupe; there's an emphasis on individuals rather than couples, and Daniele's versions of rock 'n' roll dances of the '50s stretch the performers' movement vocabulary quite a bit.

AS PART OF its celebration of Black History Month, Dance Place offers a diverse program by a host of local dancers and performance artists. The Adrain Bolton Dance Company will perform "Innervisions," an ode to cultural diversity. Choreographer Alvin Mayes's "Miss Mary Mack" will be danced by a group from the University of Maryland. Boris Willis and Kimberly Boyd, both members of Liz Lerman and the Dance Exchange, will perform solos. Pieces by Ajax-Joe Drayton and Kwelismith, both of whom work in a variety of media, round out the program.