Cecilia Barnes, 73, has nine children, 24 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, but she's still light on her feet and glad for any chance to show it.

"You live this long, you keep on moving as long as God lets you," says Barnes, who lives in Northeast Washington. She will get her chance to dance at the first Metro Talent Search Grand Finale when the curtain goes up Saturday night at Constitution Hall on 28 amateur acts from Maryland, the District and Virginia.

To Barnes, just dancing is more important than any award. "I love to dance," she says simply. "A thousand-dollar prize? I never thought about the money."

But fame and a small fortune are on the minds of many contestants who have made it to the grand finale. In the process, they've bested 1,300 others during six weeks of preliminary competitions. They want to win.

"If I win, it would be the best thing that ever happened to me," says Diego Cortes Escobar, 27, a classical pianist from Bethesda. Escobar has never had any formal musical training, but he received surprisingly high scores from professional musicians during the preliminary competitions. He hopes one day to have his work fully orchestrated and performed by the National Symphony. Winning could mean the difference in making his dreams come true, he says.

"Everybody'll be a winner," says Kitty Herndon, the Metro Talent Search coordinator. Winners in each of 14 categories will receive trophies, and the overall winner will take home a $1,000 cash prize.

In addition, Herndon says, Talent Search is trying to offer "incentive prizes" that will give contestants the chance to learn and perform beyond Saturday's competition. Herndon wants to arrange performances at the Kennedy Center for contestants in the classical categories, and would like to see the two actresses in the dramatic-reading category perform at Arena Stage.

"That's what we think is substantially more important than the thousand dollars," she said.

Talent Search has been bringing dreams closer to reality for local talent in the District since 1977, and for the first time, the competition includes Maryland and Virginia residents this year.

"Last year we had 400 calls from Maryland, about 700 from Virginia," says Herndon, "but more importantly, we got 90 applications when very clearly (the application) said District of Columbia residents only."

This year 1,503 groups and individuals applied. Of the 28 acts that made it to the finals, 13 are from Maryland, 10 are from the District and four are from Virginia. Triad Trip, a gospel singing group, has members living in both the District and Maryland.

Supported by a grant from Mobil Corp. and technical assistance from the D.C. Recreation Department, Catholic University and the public-relations firm of Ofield Dukes and Associates, the grand finale has blossomed into a full-scale extravaganza with 70 contestants in 28 acts, a chorus line of 30 dancers and an extra chorus of singers, in addition to stage and lighting crews, coaches, judges and musicians.

"Boy, do I get excited talking about the kids!" Herndon bubbles, even though it's 9 p.m. and work is still piled high on her desk the week before the grand finale. "This is the best talent that we've seen," she says. "It was diversity that was missing in previous shows, which is going to make this one outstanding."

That diversity embraces classical, pop, rock, jazz and gospel music, drama, mime and dance classics.

"Dance groups -- that's going to be a stiff competition. I would not want to sit in the judges' seat that night," Herndon says.

"It's frightening to know that there are this many young, talented people out here," she says, shaking her head in amazement. "Maybe after this, some folks will realize we don't have to import talent. We can sit here and cultivate our own."

Maryland contestants in Saturday's talent show will include classical flutist Dan Forden of Potomac and pop percussionist David Skrutski of Rockville. Performers in the dance category are Karen Youker of Bethesda, Tammy Bailey of Clinton and the Ruth Shelton Dancers of Hillcrest Heights. Gymnast Tracey Blaney of Waldorf will perform an acrobatic ballet routine.

The Maryland vocalists are S. Scott Gordon of Silver Spring, the 68-year-old "singing taxi driver," pop singer Yvette Cason, also of Silver Spring, and gospel singer Persephone Roach of District Heights.

The dramatic acting competition will include a reading by Charmaine Robinson of Wheaton. Maryland finalists in other categories include the Mellow Magic Band and Show, of Suitland, and Suitland High School sophomore Chester Woodard's specialty act, a performance on the "electric boogaloo."