What PICA giveth, PICA taketh away.

The sixth annual Dada Ball will be the last, and perhaps it's time. The party was never meant to last. Dada requires fresh, of-the-moment spontaneity, "and to have something that's Dada and formulaic at the same time was kind of a contradiction," says Jennifer Jacobs, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art's development director.

For those who weep for the dream's demise, there is hope. "Every organization has its signature fund-raiser, and there will be a new party to replace Dada," Jacobs assures us. "It's fitting with PICA's mission to try to keep it new." And the last hurrah will be a honey, with scads of variety in the entertainment: DJs, bands and "performance interruptions" will join the hordes of costumed carousers.

What about those costumes? Jacobs urges us to exert ourselves getting decked for Dada. "Dada challenges you to express your own creativity. There aren't a lot of things in daily life that do that anymore." Memorable costumes she remembers from years past? A motorcycle helmet festooned with a fishbowl (fish included), a cauliflower boa, and a man who arrived in black but throughout the night covered himself with Polaroids of other people's costumes.

Though the Dada has been accused of being everything from an elitist snobfest--a "caged and insular festival," according to one website rant--to a costly flop, there are few spectacles in Portland that even attempt its pomp and bombast. When else do you receive an invitation (sure, it does cost 30 bucks and up) to contemplate the Surrealists in your birthday suit with the soothing sounds of Dahlia in your ears and a hit of Ecstasy on your tongue? Give it up for PICA's queen bee, Kristy Edmunds, and the good people legislating our civic fun--they sure did try.

On reflection, the stagey, all-yak-and-no-shack letdown that the Dada Ball can produce in partygoers is beautifully appropriate to the art movement's original intent--to negate conventional aesthetic and social values in the wake of World War I, and to startle the public toward new ideals through methods and symbols that were deliberately incomprehensible. Digest version: chaos, teardown and destruction yes, bourgeois good times no. Dada is one of those art movements frequently described as "important," rarely described as "good." Consider Dada an important party, if not always a good one.

Snag the fetchingest date you can manage, wreak havoc with the Cheez Whiz, and go. And for Pete's sake, wipe that face off your head--it's only Dada. Take these good-time tips with you and pay fond tribute to a tradition that was, after all, maybe more than we deserved.

Don't be literal. This year's theme is "The Dada Ball Est Mort," but don't grab for ghouls, ghosts and coffins. Remember, Dada is not technically a fancy-dress party--one doesn't imitate a personality (Queen Elizabeth, Sporty Spice, Gary Condit) so much as an idea. This calls for divergent thinking. Free-associate, get out the white board and the stinky markers, whatever it takes, but do try to come up with something good.

Do your homework. What is Dada? I'm not going to tell you; just know that it's not a synonym for anything "freaky" (freaky being whatever latex unmentionable you can buy at The Future for less than a Jackson). I'm channeling Rob Brezsny to say this, but how about using Dada's last hurrah to intimately explore what feels daring and transgressive to you? It doesn't have to be Rotterdam gay disco circa 1991--consider an electrician's coverall, a double helix made of garden hose, a shoulder-padded pink power suit and cream stilettos. Dada seized everyday symbols and transformed their meanings--what can you do with a Jackie Collins castoff?

Bring something to share. Because there is not much to do at the Dada Ball but mill and idle, prepare to amuse yourself. An ice breaker will help you meet people--an Instamatic camera, an edible costume, an autograph book. Getting really loaded will also help you meet people.

Remember: Nudity is not a costume. You're still rebelling against that rural religious sect you grew up in, and electrical tape on your nipples is just the kind of thing that would shock the socks off your folks. Whoa pony, assess your context. In the drowsy-emperor disorder that is Dada, your nipples are old news. Use imagination to make a unique event of your body. If your buck-naked hide is all you have to offer, take it to Silverado.

Go, my children, and enjoy Dada's bittersweet dregs. PICA's gone to so much trouble for you.

The Dada Ball

will take place Sept. 15. For ticket info, call PICA at 242-1419. $30 advance, $35 at the door.

Race for the Cure

Join the serious sprinters at the front or the latte ladies at the back--just show up with your boogie shoes on for the largest all-female Race for the Cure in the nation.

On-site registration begins at Waterfront Park at 6:30 am, women's 5K run at 8:30 am, 5K walk at 9 am (co-ed 5K run at 7:30 am, walk at 9:30 am) Sunday, Sept. 16. Call 553-6680 for more information. $15 (kids)-$30.