August 31, 1981 12:00 PM

Amanda McKerrow, 17, was a sensation the moment she set foot on the stage of Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater last June. The 5’3½”, 92-pound dancer was praised for her lyrical technique and became the first American to win a gold medal at the prestigious 12-year-old Moscow International Ballet Competition. The quadrennial event favors Russians, and this year McKerrow shared honors with Natalya Arkhipova of the Soviet Union in the junior women’s category for ages 16 to 19. Not that it bothers Amanda. After all, she says, “Russia was always the Mecca of dance.” Indeed, to be chosen over 130 competitors from more than 20 countries, the teenager from Rockville, Md. already ranks among ballet’s very best.

Born in New Mexico, McKerrow is the youngest child of a housewife and a retired administrator at the National Institutes of Health. She began lessons at 7 and five years later won a scholarship to the Metropolitan Academy of Ballet in Bethesda. She was trained in the strict Russian dance technique used in most classical ballet. After her sophomore year she dropped out of high school (she continues to take equivalency courses) and joined the Washington Ballet.

After two and a half weeks of preliminaries in Moscow, she danced the “Blue Bird” pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty in the finals. At three the next morning Mary Day, her teacher and the artistic director of the Washington Ballet, telephoned her. “Honey, we won the jackpot!” Earlier this month McKerrow performed with ballet superstars Natalia Makarova and Gelsey Kirkland, but her biggest thrill may come with the opening of the Washington company’s season in October. Then she will dance on the same program with someone who won the Moscow medal back when she was only 5—Mikhail Baryshnikov.

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