From the time 23 young women in spring dresses onstage with flags of Spanish-speaking countries - each new flag raising applause from those of the nationality it represented - until the show closed with the Tulio Arias and Los Dinamicos and their big band Afro-Cuban sound, the audience was rarely still.

The scene was Arlington's Thomas Jefferson Junior High School, where the Spanish American Committee of Virgina was holding its seventh annual talent show. Nearly 1,000 Spanish speaking persons joined the entertainment.

Families in Sunday best, trailing grandmothers and babies, filed in and out non-stop during the four-hour marathon show that left enough time for performers from several Latin American nations to perform native songs and dance. A magic act, a ballet pas de deux and a comedy routine were thrown in for good measure.

Everyone knew the auditorium, which seats 715, could not hold the entire crowd. So did the Arlington fire marshal-s office.

When fire officials turned up, the show's chief organizer Luis Vidana didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Acting Battalion Chief Salvatore Tamaro, of the Arlington Fire Department, had come to clear out at least 200 people who were sitting in the aisless and on the staircases.

But the fact that the show attracted 200 more Latins than expected meant it was a spectacular success in Vidano's opinion.

Vidano, a native of Cuba and president of the Comite Hispano American (Spanish-American Committee) estimates there are about 150,000 Latins in the metropolitan area, including 30,000 in Arlington, 18,000 in Fairfax County and 7,000 in Alexandria. Other estimated put the figure for the metropolitan at 100,000.

Vidano gleefully noted that "all the big shots are here," referring to some 10 local Northern Virginia politicians who came to the show. "But the fire marshal is a bigger shot right now. Better we had invited to the show."

Crowded conditions are hardly cause for fuss in any Latin American country. Nor were they at Sunday's brief glimpse back to the homelands. As fire officials gently moved families form staircase seat to available fixed seats and left the auditorium, the aisles and steps quickly filled up again.

The same scene repeated itself in the audience as the scenes changed onstage.

Even after everyone had found seats, illegas as some of them were, nobody remained passive. Feet moved, hands clapped and those few standing danced to Bolivian and Peruvian folk dances accompanied by flute music from the high plateau regions of the two countries.

Old men with weathered faces in brilliant embroidered vests and scarves and young school girls in patel-colored bowler hats, costume versions of the black derbies worn by Peruvian and Bolivian Indian women, joined in the dancing. As the dancing became more heated and powered, so did the audience.

Audience response came loud and hearty to all 14 acts, and each national act commanded an enthusiastic welcome from its natives in the audience. The Chileans gave the loudest greetings to the Chileam performers, and the Cubans saved their longest applause for their singer Patricia Rosell, who fled Cuba with her mother at the age 9 after the Bay of Pigs incident in 1961.

And while some of the acts returned the audience to memories of their homes, others spoke to new lives as Latins in American.

The Mariachis de las Americans, a Mexican mariachi band whose exhuberant performance appeared the favourite of the entire audience, sang modern ballads of the subterfuges Mexicans need to employ to cross the Mexico-U.S. border, like marrying a "gringita." Another ballad told of a Mexican running marijuana into the States who died in a shootout with U.S. authorities.

The Puerto Rican comedianne, Carmen Morales Deeny, told of how she tries to explain life to her family still in Puerto Rico: that she lives in good neighbourhood now, but the American version of success carries with it coldness; that her children are speaking English in the house now.