THE BIG STORY on the dance front for the coming 1977-78 season is the projected appearance by the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, headed by ballerina Alicia Alonso, at the Kennedy Center Opera House next May. This promises to be a quintessential Washington-style event, generating equal attention on both diplomatic and artistic sides - the company will be making its U.S. debut here, thus becoming the first major cultural export from Cuba since the advent of the recent political thaw. The troupe will be presented jointly in D.C. and New York by the Kennedy Center and the Metropolitan Opera under the partnership agreement initiated last year - another feather in KC director Martin Feinstein's already well-studded cap.

In addition to returning fall and spring appearances by American Ballet Theater and the New York City Ballet, the Kennedy Center has another coup in store for the summer of '78 - a two-week engagement by the London Festival Ballet with guest artist Rudolph Nureyev presenting and dancing in his new version of Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet." New ballets by Antony Tudor and Paul Taylor (his first for a classical ballet company) are to be among the enhancements of the ABT December engagement, with rumors also of a new ballet by Mikhail Baryshnikov as a possibility for the spring. George Balanchine's new Strauss bon-bon, "Vienna Waltzes," will highlight the NYC Ballet visit. Further down the road, the Kennedy Center has let it be known that the Stuttgart Ballet will be returning to Washington in 1979.

The Washington Performing Arts Soceity will be sponsoring appearances by seven modern dance companies in its annual series this year. A notable innovation will be an extension of the run by the Paul Taylor Dance Company to seven performances in its Lisner Auditorium engagement.

Also on the modern dance series, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will return for a week of performances at the Kennedy Center Opera House. Another full week of performances in the same hall will be devoted to the Soviet Georgian Dancers, with the Thilisi Polyhonic Choir, a truly superb outfit that has not been seen here in several seasons. The Georgians will be one of ten attractions on the two series of folk dance events WPAS is presenting for 1977-78.

The brilliantly successful "City Dance" festival of this past spring will also have a return engagement under WPAS auspices, offering a new sampling of locally based dance companies of a downtown theater.

Some of the most prestigious dance events of the coming year will take place not on stage but on screen. "The Turning Point," starring Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine along with dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov - the first major feature film about ballet since "The Red Shoes" - is due to open at the Avalon Theater on November 16.

Commerical television, moreover, will make one of its rare ventures into the ballet world when CBS telecasts Baryshnikov's version of "The Nutcracker" on Christmas day. Baryshnikov himself and Gelsey Kirkland will be the principals in this IBM-sponsored program.

Aside from these major landmarks, dance activity will buzz along at more or less the same peak pace as in the past several seasons, with local, outlying and visiting attractions in continuing abundance. Here's what to look for:

Following last year's pattern, the visiting ballet series at Kennedy Center doesn't get underway until the return of ABT in December, when the deluge begins. ABT comes in with two weeks of repertory, including the new Tudor and Taylor works, starting December 6. On December 20, Baryshnikov's "The Nutcracker," which had its world premiere at the Opera House last year, returns for another two weeks. The company lineup will include Cynthia Gregory, Gelsey Kirkland, Martine Van Hamel, Eleanor d'Antuono, Baryshnikov, Fernando Bujones, Ivan Nagy and other ABT regulars. ABT will return for another three weeks of repertory starting March 14.

The New York City Ballet arrives for two weeks on February 21, with a repertory to include "Vienna Waltzes" and a revival of a Jerome Robbins ballet, newly dubbed "Musical Comedy," to the Stravinsky Dumbarton Oaks Concerto. Among the company dancers will be Suzanne Farrell, Jacques d'Amboise, Peter Martins, Kay Mazzo, Helgi Tomasson and Karin von Aroldingen.

On May 30, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba begins a two-week run which will include Alonso performing the title role in "Giselle," and at least five unfamiliar works by Cuban and other foreign choreographers, among them "Carmen," "Oedipus Rex," and "The House of Bernarda Alba."

The London Festival Ballet engagement begins July 31, and will include several Fokine revivals, among them "Scheherazade" and "Prince Igor," along with Nureyev's "Romeo and Juliet." Principals include Eva Evdokimova, Elisabetta Terabust, Manola Asensio, Liliana Belfiore, Noleen Nicol and Carole Hill.

The WPAS Modern Dance series starts with the Twyla Tharp Dance Company at Lisner Auditorium, September 23 and 24; also at Lisner will be the Murray Louis Dance Company, premiering a new Louis work to th Schubert "Trout" Quintet, October 14 and 15; the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, in its series debut, November 11 and 12; the Alwin Nikolais Dance Theater, December 2 and 3; the Paul Taylor Dance Company, January 24 through 29; and the Joyce Trisler Danscompany, also a series debut, April 28 and 29. Alvin Ailey's American Dance Theater performs at the Kennedy Center Opera House February 14 through 19.

Except for the Soviet Georgian Dancers, who will appear at the Kennedy Center Opera House, the WPAS Folk Dance series events will take palce in th Center's Concert Hall, as follows: Folk series A - Yatran Ukrainian Folk Dance Company, September 26, 27; National Festival Ballet of Spain, October 7, 8; Los Calchakis, from Latin America, October 30; Dancers of Bali, November 20; Lucnica Czechoslovakian Folk Ballet, December 5.Folk series B - Ballet Folklorico Mexicano de Graciela Tapia, November 5; Soviet Georgian Dancers and Tbilisi Polyhonic Choir, November 22-27 (Opera House); Hungarian Folk Ballet of Budapest and Gypsy Orchestra, January 13; Okinawan Dancers, March 10; Jose Molina Spanish Dance Company, March 31.

"City Dance '78" will be presented at a place and on dates to be announced.

The Capitol Ballet will perform November 18 at the Martin Luther King Library, and expects to present a Christmas series of children's performances, along with its regular children's and adults' concert series at Lisner Auditorium in late January, March and May. The company will also be performing outside the city in such places as Baltimore and Richmond.

The Washington Ballet season will include an appearance with the Paul Hill Chorale at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall October 21 and 22, as well as the annual "Nutcracker" performances and a new spring series at Lisner featuring works by resident choreographer Choo San Goh.

The D.C. City Ballet, undergoing an expansion of its educational and performing activities this year under the direction of founder Bernard Spriggs, will have performances at the Washington Project for the Arts on November 6, and the Rockville Community Center on November 13, in addition to others to be announced.

Jan Van Dyke and Dancers have announced a gala benefit performance October 1 at the Trapier Theater, for which Joan Mondale, Benetta B. Washington, and Dorothy Fauntroy have agreed to serve as co-chairmen.

The same company will also premiere a new work by Van Dyke at the Renwick Gallery, October 26 through November 5 (also to be shown at the Baltimore Museum of Art, December 4). The Dance Project, under Van Dyke's direction, will again present a concert series featuring local and invited troupes; thus far, the schedule includes an evening of dances by Cathy Paine, November 19 and 20; Jan Van Dyke and Dancers, December 10 and 11; and evening of solos by the Dance Project faculty, mid-January; Kei Takei and Mal Pate in a workshop performance with Dance Project students, January 28 and 29; the Three's Company troupe in March; Phoebe Neville, May 13 and 14; and a concert by Dance Project students, June 3 and 4.

The African Heritage Dancers and Drummers expect to perform this fall at local festivals and other sites and will also be touring several states in the South and Southwest. The company's school performances, in D.C. and Baltimore, will recommence in January.

The Dance Alliance is planning new fall and spring programs and is investigating several special outdoor sites downtown for performances next May or June.

The Dance Exchange is expanding its class and workshop curriculum this season. Choreographer Liz Lerman is at work on both a solo piece and a full-evening group work. Her "Ms. Galaxy and Her Three Raps with God" will be performed October 29 at the Jewish Community Center in Rockville.

Free Association, the improvisatory dance troupe, will appear at WPA October 7 and 8, and plans a series of performances locally as well as workshops and lecture demonstrations. A January performance at the Renwick Gallery is also under consideration.

The Dance Forum, under the direction of Carol Fonda, will offer two formal concert series at the Marvin Theater in January and May, in collaboration with the Contemporary Music Forum, as well as regular demonstrations and mini-concerts at such sites as nursing homes, prisons, hospitals, schools, streets and galleries.

Erika Thimey's Washington Dance Theater will give forty to fifty area performances at festivals, schools, colleges and churches. The company will appear at Baltimore's Jewish Community Center October 26 and November 8.

The Smithsonian Institution, through several of its divisions, has a number of dance events coming up. There'll be square dancing at the annual Festival of American Folklife, October 5-10; Dances of West Java, October 18; an evening of country music and dance by the Plank Roads String Band, November 18; and a film and lecture on Thovil, Dance of Sri Lanka on February 16, followed by a Thovil performance on February 17. In addition, Smithsonian Associates, in cooperation with the Modern Dance Council and WPAS, is offering a series of performances, demonstrations and lectures under the heading "Invitation to the Dance" on weekday evenings between September 23 and December 8. Maida Withers and George Gelles will lead the sessions.

The Baltimore-based Maryland Ballet, under the direction of Kathleen Crofton, will offer three subscription series this year at the Lyric Theater and Goucher College, during October, March and April, as well as a completely new "Nutcracker" with choreography by James Starbuck, to be performed at the New Mechanic Theater.

The Maryland Dance Theater, the statewide touring ensemble based at the University of Maryland under the direction of Larry Warren, will perform at the Corcoran Gallery January 27, and at Maryland University's Tawes Fine Arts Theater March 3 and 4, as well as at various outlying sites.

The Arlington Dance Theater has scheduled performances at the Thomas Jefferson Community Center December 9-11, January 6-7 and April 28-30. The new artistic director of ADT this year will be Carmen Mathe, former principal of the National Ballet, the Chicago Ballet and the Houston Ballet. The company's former director, Kathryn Fredgren, will remain on staff as a specialist in jazz and tap.

The Jewish Community Center in Rockville will offer a dance improvisation weekend with the Free Association troupe September 17 and 18; the performance of Liz Lerman's "Ms. Galaxy," October 29; and a teen performance, "In the Beginning," November 6.

The Prochotsky Ballet Theater of Bethesda plans to stage a new children's ballet, "Doctor Ouch," for the Christmas season, with music by the Soviet composer Morozov. Frank Ohman, of the New York City Ballet, will mount a new ballet for PBT in the spring, based on Schumann's "Carnaval."

At American University, Risa Steinberg and Robyn Cutler, members of the Jose Limon Dance Company, will be in residence for the fall semester. The University's fall dance concert will take place November 17-19. Guest artists and programs for the Academy of the Performing Arts during the summer of 1978 will be announced at a later date.

The University of Maryland Dance Department has announced a 1977-78 dance concert series that includes Dance L/A, a West Coast company, at the Publick Playhouse, Bladensburg, November 4 and 5; student-faculty concert, University Lab Theater, November 15-19; Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, Publick Playhouse, Bladensburg, February 24 and 25; Maryland Dance Theater, Tawes Theater, March 3 and 4; student-faculty concert, University Lab Theater, April 18-22.

Though specific performance plans have not yet been made or announced, dance events can be expected during the course of the season from such other area groups and sponsors as the D.C. Repertory Dance Company; the Dance Construction Company; the Feet First troupe, directed by Carol Vaughn; Murray Spalding's Movement Arts troupe; the St. Mark's Dance Company; the Capitol Hill Dance Consortium; Louis Tupler's Washington Modern Dance Socitey; the Dupont Consortium, which sponsors workshops and performances in Renaissance and Baroque dance; the Washington Project for the Arts; the Modern Dance Council of Washington; the Metropolitan Ballet; the Virginia Ballet; the Vienna Ballet; the George Washington University dance ensemble; Quindo's Window children's dance theater; and others.

It's early for details of most 1978 summer programs, but Wolf Trap has assured us the Eliot Feld Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet companies will both be back again. The Carter Barron Amphitheater, which restored dance to its attractions quite successfully this past summer, can be expected to follow suit next year. Some summer dance events may also turn up, as they did this past summer, at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia.

Finally, several series on public television will again be providing another source of dance viewing, including "In Performance at Wolf Trap," which will broadcast last summer's performance by the Martha Graham Dance Company sometime this fall, "Dance in America" and "Live from Lincoln Center."