Dance company founder Maru Montero forgives the drivers who do double-takes passing her house. In a sea of bland Washington homes, the yellow trim and red shutters on her two-story brick colonial stand out like a kaleidoscope smashed onto a sidewalk.

"I decided to paint it," the founder of the award-winning Maru Montero Dance Company says, sitting in her hacienda-style dining room beside a yellow wall with blue trim. The adjacent wall is painted a deep orange, and around the corner is a kitchen bathed in yellow and orange. "I love colors."

The Maru Montero Dance Company has brought color of its own to Washington since the former Ballet Folklorico de Mexico dancer founded one of the area's only Latin dance companies in 1992.

"It's an explosion of things," Montero says of the company that won the Washington Mayor's Arts Award in 1997. "It's an explosion of colors and temperament, an explosion of footsteps, an explosion of music. It's like a big, big party."

The party moves to the Prince George's Publick Playhouse in Cheverly this Saturday for two performances commemorating Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs Sept. 15 through Oct. 15.

For Montero and the company's 10 dancers, it's a time of year that is nearly as exhausting as it is exciting--the company is booked for 20 performances.

Accommodating the schedule is a tough balancing act for the dancers, who range in age from 19 to their thirties and have day jobs at the World Bank, Whitman-Walker Clinic and the University of the District of Columbia.

"This month is nuts!" Montero says. "They hate me after October. They don't want to see me. They say, 'You work us so hard.' But they know they are working to sustain a company."

Any fatigue the company may be experiencing didn't show at its recent high-energy Constitution Hall performance in conjunction with Mariachi, D.C., a music and dancing extravaganza. The women, their hair pulled back into loops and accented with flowers, wore multicolored, traditional Mexican costumes with frilly peasant-style tops, fitted waists and wide, loopy skirts as they dazzled the audience by twirling and spinning like rainbow pinwheels. The men, dressed in black, wore wide-brimmed hats and did acrobatics with machetes, appearing cool and controlled while coming dangerously close to the blades.

Now in its eighth year, the company is the culmination of a life dedicated to preserving the arts and culture of Montero's native Mexico.

Montero, who was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, moved to Mexico City when she was 5 years old. At age 16, she joined the world-renowned Ballet Folklorico de Mexico. Montero toured the world from Europe to China with the company, which featured Mexican folk dance with a foundation in ballet, jazz and modern dance.

She was dancing with other companies and working as a model and actress when she met an American journalist stationed in Mexico. She later married Peter Copeland--an author and editor at Scripps Howard News Service--and moved to Washington. The couple now has two children, 7-year-old Isabella and 4-year-old Lucas.

Noting the absence of a professional-quality Latin dance company in the area, Montero decided to start her own. But not before working various jobs--from teaching Spanish to waitressing.

She initially recruited friends to dance and sew costumes, holding auditions for additional dancers as the company grew. Their early performances were at festivals and conferences in Washington; their first concert presentation was in late 1995 at the GALA Hispanic Theatre.

Now the company gives 50 to 60 performances a year, largely clustered around Cinco de Mayo and Hispanic Heritage Month festivities.

The troupe's brand of Mexican folk dancing has a sensual, light-hearted and joyous flair all its own--and it's not to be confused with flamenco, Montero cautions.

"Flamenco is more passionate and intense," she says, twirling her wrist and pointing her chin down with a flamenco-like flourish.

"What we're doing is more festive, more happy."

And, undoubtedly, more colorful.

The Maru Montero Dance Company will perform at 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday at Prince George's Publick Playhouse, 5455 Landover Rd., Cheverly. Admission is $5, free for children wearing traditional Mexican garb. For information, call 301-277-1710. The company is on the Web at