By Kurt Pitzer
Updated June 26, 1995 12:00 PM

TONIGHT SHOW HOST JAY LENO doesn’t remember exactly what sharp gavel rap to his brain summoned the Dancing Itos, but give the Tonight Show host credit for dreaming up the giddiest act so far in the media circus surrounding the O.J. trial. The five young Asian-American dancers, wearing eyeglasses and fake beards to look like presiding Judge Lance Ito, 44, first turned up on Tonight March 2, shimmying and strutting in black robes. In hundreds of letters, a jury of their fans demanded a retrial. The result: a half-dozen further appearances, with more to come. So far, the jiving judges, who were hired for the gig through an L.A. talent agency, have done a slinky Vegas-style number with a Marcia Clark look-alike, kicked up fishnet-stockinged legs for a cancan and, costumed as members of the Village People, bumped their hips to a song called “O.J.L.A.,” set to the tune of “Y.M.C.A.”

Judge Ito himself has watched the routines with delight. Perhaps he dreams of such happy feet. After all, says Leno, who performed stand-up for the sequestered jury in April, “you see this man up there getting barraged by all these fast-talking lawyers. You don’t see him laugh or smile.” At the end of the day, says Leno, it’s easy to imagine Ito shifting into “gotta dance” mode. “Plus,” he adds, with a nod to one of David Letterman’s gags, “the name ‘Ito’ is fun to say. It’s like ‘Buttafuoco.’ ”

Choreographer Mary Ann Kellogg encourages the dancers—Nito Larioza, 23, Tym Buacharern, 25, Danny Lee, 27, Hoang Ho, 21, and Michael Gregory, 29—to keep things spontaneous. “We watch the trial to pick up his mannerisms,” says Gregory—who also performed in Madonna‘s latest video, “Human Nature,” thrusting his head between her legs—”like the way he puts his index finger and thumb up to his chin.” When not in session, “we don’t hang out together,” says Larioza, who lives in the Hollywood Hills with his girlfriend, dancer Shaula Vega (the Itos are all single). “But we see each other at auditions and dance classes, and that’s cool. We share this bond.”

And, unlike some courtroom observers, the Itos, who are paid $600 each for the spots, don’t mind if the case stretches on forever. “Lance!” exclaims Gregory. “I love that man! He keeps me working!”

KURT PITZER in Los Angeles