"It's way too ambitious -- we're killing ourselves," says Christel Stevens, one of the organizers of "Darpana: Dance Reflections," this weekend's festival of Indian dance.

Ah, well, what's art without some pain? No one said it would be easy to bring together the many diverse -- and rivalrous -- Indian dance styles practiced in the area to perform before an audience of devotees and newcomers alike. More than 100 dancers will participate, drawn from the East Coast and Calcutta, but the majority are from the local Indian American community.

Stevens is a member of the Indian Dance Educators Association, formed four years ago to unite Indian dancers and teachers in the area. The group has put together "Darpana" to reproduce some elements of the festival atmosphere typical of week-long events in India. At those gatherings, "People can go to the theater at 10 a.m. and not leave until midnight," Stevens says.

While not nearly so extensive, "Darpana" offers four programs of Indian dance, each named after a legendary dancer and showcasing different forms of Indian dance. Included are examples of such angular and percussive South Indian dance styles as Bharata Natyam and Kuchipudi, as well as rarer forms such as Odissi and Manipuri, from Eastern India. The last is the American-born Stevens's specialty, a gentle, meditative dance style that she teaches in her home with her Indian husband.

Such wide-ranging displays are what make this event unique in the realm of Indian dance. Artists and teachers who are customarily in fierce competition with one another for students and resources ("back stabbing," is how Stevens puts it) are working together to build audiences, share experiences -- and check out their rivals.

"Everyone's trying to top one another," Stevens says. "Everyone's trying to bring out their best work."

But you needn't be an expert, or "rasika," to appreciate the different dance styles.

"The exotic and interesting music, beautiful costumes, percussive aspects of the dance with bells on the ankles -- there are many aspects to enjoy without being knowledgeable about the form or the mythology behind the dances," Stevens says.

Darpana: Dance Reflections -- Performances in conjunction with the three-day festival of Indian dance are Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st St. NW. Admission is $15 per show, $30 for a "season pass" to all four shows. For reservations, call 703/532-5479.