A ritual has developed among D.C. police officers in the 4th District: Each Saturday and Sunday around 3 a.m., the officers converge on Georgia Avenue and Park Road NW to disperse a crowd of more than 400 energetic youths who suddenly spill onto the streets from Celebrity Hall.

Officers, engulfed by the crowd, station themselves on corners. A police cruiser hops the curb, then eases down the sidewalk to move the masses. As the crowd begins to break up, young people collect in the niches of the neighborhood, in parking lots, around gas stations, in front of residences.

Dwindling slowly in the early morning, the sometimes raucous crowds of young people are recognizable by the hand towels many of them carry -- the signature of the dance music mania called go-go.

This congested scene, familiar to neighborhood residents around Celebrity Hall and the half dozen other principal go-go venues in the District, has spawned a debate between generations. Some adults, led by D.C. Council member Frank Smith Jr. (D-Ward 1), have moved to curb the violence and rowdiness that attend some go-go events by imposing a curfew that would cut into go-go's late hours.

Some young people, meanwhile, have banded together in what they see as an effort to save go-go, a rough and raw style of rap music with a continuous percussive beat and chanted vocals. At a rally sponsored by the ad hoc Committee to Save Go-Go Music earlier this summer, Malika Smith, the 15-year-old daughter of Council member Frank Smith, took the podium to speak out against two bills sponsored by her father.

Go-go, born in Washington a dozen years ago, "is like an underground culture," explained Charles Stephenson, an adult who has managed go-go groups and serves as president of the committee. "Adults aren't familiar with it and neither is the city council."

One of the bills would set a curfew prohibiting minors from driving in the District between 11:30 p.m. and 6 a.m. Mondays through Thursdays and between 1 and 6 a.m. on weekends. The other bill would require public halls to deny admission to minors unaccompanied by adults during those hours.

The bills, which are in committee and are expected to go through a round of public hearings in the fall, were prompted by several incidents during the past year involving violence, vandalism and other problems near dance halls featuring go-go music, according to Lynn French, an aide to Frank Smith.

In April, 11 men were shot outside the Acacia Masonic Temple in Northwest as go-go patrons left a dance there. One month later, four youths were shot outside Anacostia's Panorama Room, again as they were leaving the dance hall.

In addition, neighbors around Celebrity Hall have protested formally that the youthful exuberance in the early morning has become a community nuisance.

At the heart of the issue is go-go itself. The product of Washington's inner-city black youth, go-go music evolved from something called "the beat," Stephenson said.

"It got popular around '76, right around the time of disco," he said. At that time, an ex-boxer named Chuck Brown and his Soul Searchers band did something different between songs. They kept playing.

Brown's slowed-down rhythm, peppered with conga drums, was designed to keep people dancing, Stephenson said. What evolved was a similarity to African music that was purely unintentional, said John Rice and Christopher Cooper, two students who recently wrote a thesis tracking the history of go-go music.

As the music grew more popular locally, Stephenson said, people began to say they were going to the go-go instead of the dance hall. Soon, the music began to be called go-go as well.

Andrew Richardson, a former Prince George's County police officer, who frequently worked security at go-go dance halls, said he recognized a special need. "The other places we were working were dumps," he said. The places often sold alcohol, making it difficult for the most devoted go-go fans -- teen-agers -- to attend, he added.

"The kids needed a place of their own," he said.

So Richardson bought an old car garage on Georgia Avenue and, with the help of friends and $75,000 worth of material, converted it into a club devoted to youths. He called it the Black Hole and opened it in the summer of 1985. Later he renamed it Celebrity Hall.

Inside Celebrity Hall, the dress and atmosphere are casual, similar to high school dances. There's an area in the rear of the dance hall where a photographer takes pictures of the patrons. In another room, groups of youths gather around video games. Richardson said most of the patrons are from the neighborhood.

Patrons at the weekly dances there are frisked for weapons and drugs before entering. As many as 15 security guards, some undercover, sift through the dancing youths, who have paid $7 or $8 for admission.

Instead of the traditional boy-girl style of dancing, the revelers face the band, constantly dancing. Sometimes for up to 45 minutes without a break, they dance. That's the purpose of the towels: to cool down a dancer who doesn't want to stop.

Many youths hold up T-shirts with their "go-go name" printed on them. One go-go status symbol is to have that name incorporated in the rap that the lead singer often makes up as he goes along.

Although the music might have begun in the inner city, the patrons, who are mostly teen-agers, cut across the black economic spectrum.

"I come out here just about every weekend," said Kenneth Byrd, 16. "It's a nice place and it beats hanging out on the streets." Byrd said he knows the reputation of go-go halls but insisted: "You can't get drugs in here. Every once in a while there're fights, but not too often."

Despite Richardson's efforts to tamp down trouble, problems have persisted. In fact, neighborhood complaints began almost immediately after the hall was opened as the Black Hole.

"It's quite a nuisance," said James H. Hunt of 714 Morton St. NW. "A lot of times I end up picking up the trash on the street, and I've picked up syringe needles."

For Mary Dickens of 743 Morton St. NW, the problems have hit closer to home. "One time I heard some people open my front gate, so I tipped downstairs and peeked through the living room window," she said. "There was a couple sitting in my chair on my front porch having sex."

Dickens also said that she has seen children as young as 10 go in the club. "What are kids that young doing walking up and down at midnight, 1 o'clock in the morning?" she asked.

Initially, the complaints focused on the hall's closing hour: 5 a.m. So Richardson began closing at 3 a.m. He also hired a public relations firm to help with the hall's image and began inviting neighbors to use the place as a community center.

Marie Whitfield, a Morton Street resident, was one neighbor who accepted Richardson's offer. She now teaches Bible classes in the hall during the day. "You might hear about drugs and guns and knives, but this place is very well monitored," she said. "It's a decent, wholesome, clean place."

Notwithstanding Richardson's views, the Office of Compliance for the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs in May 1985 began investigating the activities of the club -- responding to what an office report stated were complaints of "constant drinking in public, litter, loud music . . . loud public use of profanity, fighting and drug use."

The following October, an investigator recommended that Richardson's occupancy permit be revoked because the dance hall was "a nuisance establishment" that could not or would not control the level of the go-go bands' noise. Richardson immediately appealed the decision and, a year later, the appeals board reversed the earlier decision and reinstated the license.

"It is the position of the board that to remove Celebrity Hall from the community . . . would do much harm and little good," the board said in a report. "It would send a message to the community that every time there is something they dislike, it can be removed by the city regardless of the equities involved."

Council member Smith "thought that {decision} was outrageous," said his aide French. That's when Smith, whose ward includes Celebrity Hall, began considering the two bills. The shootings six months later reinforced his determination to do something.

French dismissed any idea that the legislation would kill go-go. But the entrepreneurs who promote it, and many of the youths who revel in it, see the attempt to close the clubs early or impose a curfew as nothing short of apocalyptic.

"If you stop go-go, there will be a big problem," warned Byrd.

Added John Harrison, 20: "Think {what would happen} if they didn't have anywhere to go. This is a plus for the neighborhood. It keeps kids off the street."