Leonid Kozlov and his wife, Valentina Kozlova, describe their current state of mind in three words: "tired, dizzy and happy."

Coming out of hiding for their first interview since defecting to the United States in Los Angeles last Sunday, the former Bolshoi Ballet dancers said they left the Soviet Union primarily to seek greater artistic independence.

"We wanted to live and work here," Kozlov said. "That is why we defected. We had wanted to do this thing for a long time, but had told absolutely no one. We feel Americans are warm people. We also want to see the world more. We want to try modern dance, to express ourselves artistically in different ways. We want to explore new directions.

"We want to start dancing again as quickly as possible. That is the most important thing. Dance is our whole life."

Where and when the Kozlovs will resume their careers remains unclear. "We have no specific ideas yet," the slender, dark, bushy-haired dancer admitted. Sitting next to him on the sofa, his petite blond wife nodded agreement.

"We have made no contacts with American companies. We have no commitments. We don't have a manager. We don't even know how to go about getting one. But we are very eager."

Queried as to possible company affiliations, the Kozlovs professed special interest both in the classically oriented, electic American Ballet Theater and in the New York City Ballet, the repertory of which is dominated by the modern works of George Balanchine.

"But," Kozlova added, "we really don't know what other companies exist in your country."

The Kozlovs regard the ordeal of defection as "a tense and difficult experience." They first considered defecting a year ago, while visiting New York for a brief tour with a small company of Soviet singers and dancers. "Unfortunately," Kozlov said, "we did not know how to do it. We were very innocent. The idea stayed with us, however. Then, last Saturday, we met someone, an American, who could help us. It was only last Saturday that we knew for sure that we would do this."

He refused to identify the American.

The Kozlovs have no children. "We are happy," they said, "that when we do have a child it will be here."

Both dancers leave mothers in the Soviet Union. Asked if the defection will complicate the lives of their relatives, Kozlov offered a terse "I hope not."

He purports not to have been in contact with Alexander Godunov, the Bolshoi hero who defected in New York last month. Ironically, it was Kozlov who inherited Godunov's roles in "Swan Lake" and Romeo and Juliet" on what remained of the Bolshoi tour.

"Godunov and I were good colleagues. But we were not special friends. I did not know of his plan. He did not know of ours. And I don't even know where he is at the moment."

Similarly, although the Kozlovs say they know Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov, celebrated defectors from the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad, they have not communicated with their colleagues.

"The last time I spoke to Baryshnikov was during the previous Bolshoi tour four years ago," Kozlov said. "I was dancing small roles then. Godunov wasn't allowed to travel at the time. He had asked me to convey regards to Baryshnikov if I should see him. I just happened to see Baryshnikov on the street, and I delivered the message."

Although security has been tight around the Kozlovs at their secret temporary residence here, they are beginning to enjoy normal freedoms. They had a brief meeting with Soviet officials Wednesday.

"We were told that our move was a mistake," the danseur recalled. "We were given a card with a number to call in case we changed our mind. We were not threatened."

Although Kozlova cited a quest for religious freedom as one of her reasons for seeking asylum (Kozlov describes himself as nonreligious), she is not, as has been speculated, Jewish.

"I am Christian," she said. Wanting to go to church, to any church, creates serious problems in Russia. Those who openly go to church do not tour with the Bolshoi."

The Kozlovs expressed unhappiness at reports the large salaries paid star dancers in the West motivated their defection.

"Money! Da. We know it is possible to earn more money here. But that certainly was not our first concern," said Kozlova. "We are accustomed to hard work. We endured many hardships at the beginning of our careers. We achieved our positions by ourselves in Russia. We are willing to do the same here."

Nevertheless, Kozlov, 32, brightened when asked if he might also consider employment outside classical ballet. He expressed "enormous admiration" for John Travolta, and admitted he might be persuaded to try making a movie if someone came up with an appropriate invitation.

The Kozlovs expressed no serious complaints regarding their treatment at the Bolshoi. They danced frequently in Moscow, from six to 10 performances a month, and enjoyed the prestige that comes with leading roles.

"For this tour," Kozlova said, "I had to dance small roles, too. So did some other ballerinas. We didn't like it, of course. But in Moscow I only danced Odette-Odile, Kitri, Juliet, important roles like that. And in the popular mixed-bill programs, Leonid and I often did showpieces such as the 'Corsair' pas de deux or Gsovsky's 'Grand Pas Classique.'"

Although they fared well, the Kozlovs were not altogether happy with certain Bolshoi policies. They did not like at least half of the ballets choreographed by the controversial director of the company, Yuri Grigorovich. And they were discomfited by the rift in the ranks that pitted the old guard of dancers -- comprising such popular favorites as Ekaterina Naximova, Vladimir Vasiliev, Naya Plisetskaya and Maris Liepa -- against a younger group less inclined to defy the official word. None of the anti-Grigorovich faction participated in the recent U.S. tour, during which much of Grigorovich's choreography was criticized for its empty conservatism and vulgarity.

The Kozlovs met in Washington, D.C., during a tour in 1973. He had already begun to assume small roles. She, only 19 at the time, was still a student, dancing in the corps.

"It was a traumatic time," he recalled. "We liked each other, and we liked America." They were married two months later and, unless situations beyond their control intervened, they have remained united on stage as well.

"We do not like to dance with other partners," Kozlov explained.

"We give each other special security. We complement each other. Grigorovich wanted Valentina to dance with Godunov. We were firm in our refusal. That was one of our dissatisfactions.

"Grigorovich does not really respect dancers. Not even dancers who save performances for him. He is a difficult man."

Not surprisingly, Grigorovich has made no public comment on the Kozlovs' defection. Some other members of the company, however, have. Vyacheslav Gordeyev, the much-admired leading danseur of the remaining younger generation, told reporters in Moscow, "Nobody in the troupe regrets that Kozlov left because nobody liked him anyway. It was very unexpected and nobody could understand why they did it." Another colleague called Kozlov "scum."

Kozlov brushed the name-calling aside, citing professional jealousy. "Gordeyev and I were never on good terms," he said. "I am not surprised at his statement.

"He always made sure someone stood between me and him when we took our curtain calls. He resented the fact that, in Grigorovich's 'Romeo,' Tybalt was a more interesting part than Romeo. He danced Romeo, of course, I danced Tybalt."

The Kozlovs regard their Bolshoi pedigrees -- he spent 14 years with the company, she six -- as their key to western success. They admit they know little about the struggles of the American dancer, or about dance in America. Although they come to this country without the glamorous image that preceded the incipient superstars Nureyev, Makarova, Baryshnikov and even Godunov, they remain blithely optimistic.

"Change is never easy," Kozlov said. "But we have no regrets," Kozlova added. "None."