THE RITUAL DANCE of political revitalization, a one-foot-forward/ one-foot-backward two-step, began in earnest for the Democrats last week when delegates to the party's 1984 nominating rules commission met for the first time in Washington. The commission, named after its chairman, Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. of North ycarolina, confronts the chore of designing a set of rules that, while retaining the substance of earlier delegate selection reforms that increased greatly the influence of women, minorities and activist newcomers in Democratic ranks, restores the predominance of elected officials and party professionals in choosing the presidential candidate. From statements made even by veteran reformers at the meeting, it seems evident that the commission will be far more conceened with ensuring a professional epicenter at the '84 convention than it will be fearful of alienating party zealots.

Although a number of commission members endorsed the current rules that reserve half the 1984 convention seats for women and guarantee "fair representation" of blacks and Hispanics, they also recognized that Democrats can ill-afford a replay of 1980. At that convention, virtually the only underrepresented minority consisted of the party's national officeholders -- a mere eight senators and 35 congressmen among 3,331 delegates.

Chances are that, if the Hunt Commission succeeds in allotting a significant percentage of delegate seats to representatives of the "organizational party" (Democratic National Committee stalwarts) and the "elected party" (governors and both federal and state legislators), there will occur defections -- perhaps a good many -- by the reform activists. At that time, if John Anderson or a surrogate candidate launches a third-party challenge, buttressed at the start by millions in federal campaign funds, recruits to its ranks from disaffected Democrats might prove far greater than in 1980. Restoring the primacy of the professionals, in short, may not come easily or without pain for the Democrats. But if anything is clear, it is that they have to do it.