There isn't much to do in this hamlet tucked into the farthest reaches of the Cumberland Mountains, 425 miles from Washington. A new four-lane highway bypassed the town a few years ago, and the nearest fast-food restaurant is 12 miles away.

But a federal judge is helping to liven up the place. His ruling has many residents here kicking up their heels. Literally. They're dancing--and for the first time in 18 years, it's legal.

There are some, of course, who take a dim view of the court ruling, which declared the town's stringent ordinance against dancing unconstitutional. It will, they warn, lead to all sorts of trouble. Dancing, after all, seldom occurs all by itself.

"I like to dance," said teetotaling town council member Danny Stanley, who supported the now-discredited ordinance, "but I don't think you can mix drinking, country music and dancing without having a problem."

That mix has been on tap for a week now at the Golden Pine, a honky-tonk at the edge of town, where they've been openly celebrating District Court Judge Glen M. Williams's decision that Pound's law violated the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The law required anyone wanting to hold a dance to get a permit from the town council, and it was Golden Pine owner William "Rusty" Elam who challenged it in court.

Now the declared winner, Elam has put a sign outside his bar that says "Let's Dance," and inside, his customers are scribbling their signatures on a wall banner proclaiming, "I was there when Pound danced."

In his June 25 ruling, the judge said Pound's law reminded him of the movie "Footloose," about a small western town's ban on dancing.

Williams said that although Virginia law permits "the governing body of any county, city or town to regulate public dance halls . . . it is clear that such language does not give municipalities the power to enact any legislation they might wish, but only reasonable regulations which are constitutional."

The Pound ordinance was so restrictive, Williams found, that "a for-profit performance of 'The Nutcracker' ballet would require prior approval of the town council."

The judge said, "It is clear that the town council could craft a more narrow ordinance aimed at controlling the perceived evils associated with dancing."

And Mayor Belva B. Bolling pledged to do just that. "We're going to draft a new law," she said at a reception for a new town manager.

In the meantime, couples are rocking and rolling to tunes pumped out by a succession of local musicians at the Golden Pine. Thursday night featured Donnie Falin, who by day runs the local sewage treatment plant and by night plays the guitar and harmonica.

Thursday night, David and Kelley Sturgill and another couple drove from their homes in nearby Jenkins, Ky., through the Pound Gap, to take advantage of the newfound freedom in Pound.

"It's not like there's a lot of things to do around here. This is it," said Kelley Sturgill, 29, sipping a beer from a long-neck bottle as she tapped her toe to the music and tried to coax her husband onto the dance floor.

David Sturgill, a 31-year-old employee of Kentucky public television, blamed the dancing ban on "religion and Virginia blue laws. Why, you can't even hunt on Sundays. I thought there was separation of church and state."

Even so, Virginia's laws are more liberal than those in Sturgill's home in Letcher County, Ky., where alcohol is illegal. Until last month's court order, the Sturgills and their friends Brad and Kimberly Johnson had to drive 30 miles, either east to Norton, Va., or west to Pikesville, Ky., to drink beer and dance.

"If you can drink, what difference is dancing going to make?" asked Brad Johnson, 29, a coal company surveyor.

Another customer, Kevin George, 34, who arrived here from Detroit six weeks ago to install fiber-optic cables in the countryside, said he had been shocked by Pound's dancing ban.

"I ain't been nowhere in this country where I couldn't dance," he said.

But Pound, population 995, isn't the only town to try to restrict dancing. Lawyer Greg Gilbert said ordinances similar to Pound's are "real common. Lots of towns have real archaic things on the books that have never been challenged."

The thing that came up at the Golden Pine was the arrest of a customer in the parking lot a couple of years ago. According to town officials, patrons poured out of the bar and jeered the arresting officer, a state policeman, who radioed for help to control the crowd. A couple of weeks later, police returned to the bar and charged a number of customers with public intoxication.

"After that," said owner Elam, "people were afraid to come here." So with his revenue diminishing, Elam decided to apply for a dancing permit to spur business.

But when more than 200 people showed up at a council meeting to oppose it, he withdrew the application and hired a lawyer to challenge the ordinance.

He also sued the town for damages, saying police had selectively enforced drinking laws against his patrons. That suit is pending.

At a hearing in federal court in nearby Big Stone Gap, Elam testified that the dancing at his place would be "just like you'd find at any Holiday Inn or any club, nothing special, just people dancing."

In a 17-page opinion that would have made Fred Astaire smile, Williams declared that "dancing between adults often has a definite communicative element, such as expression directed to attract a mate in a bar or a discotheque."

And he went on, quoting the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, that "dancing itself seems to involve the enactment, at some deep level, of community norms and expectations."

CAPTION: William "Rusty" Elam successfully challenged an ordinance in Pound, Va., that had required anyone who wanted to hold a dance to receive permission. Now, the sign in front of his restaurant attracts dancers from towns miles away.