Sunday, backstage at the Palais de Beaulieu, 16-year-old Bonnie Moore waited calmly with 14 other finalists in the Prix de Lausanne for the winners of the prestigious international dance competition to be announced.

Before the finals, she had whispered the "Our Father" to herself and practiced her dance in her head -- as she always does before performing. And then, waiting, she remembers thinking, "I knew I'd done my very best and that was all I could do.

"It was all very confusing, because they announced everything in French, which I don't speak, so I didn't recognize them saying my name," recalled the Washington Ballet's diminutive apprentice ballerina.

"Suddenly a woman grabbed me and pushed me out onto the stage to accept the medal and certificate. I bowed, then stood off to the side until the curtain came down. When the judges came up to congratulate us, I said to the one American judge, 'This is wonderful. What is it?'

"She told me I had won a first prize and, at first, I couldn't believe it."

Moore's triumph didn't surprise the legendary Mary Day, the company's artistic director who accompanied her to Lausanne, Switzerland, just as seven months ago she had accompanied two of her other dancers, Amanda McKerrow and Simon Dow, to the Moscow Ballet Competition. There, the 17-year-old McKerrow became the first American ever to win the contest's gold medal and Dow won a prize for partnering.

"Bonnie and Amanda," said Day, who has earned a reputation for nurturing champions, "are beautifully endowed, physically, for dance and have a lovely quality of movement. Bonnie is a lovely size, is natually slim, has tiny little ankles and wrists and a beautifully shaped head. Right now, Bonnie understudies all of Amanda's parts."

In the competition, Day said, "Bonnie danced the same variation Amanda did in Moscow -- Aurora's solo from 'Sleeping Beauty.' She even wore Amanda's crown, for luck."

Day said she was "confident Bonnie would win a prize," but she wasn't sure it would be a first. "Frankly, I was worried about the raked slanted stage. Bonnie had never danced on one, and it can greatly affect balance. But she was so cute, she said to me, 'The stage is kind of fun. It adds a little extra excitement.' "

That excitement carried over into a hurried transatlantic phone call to her parents in Phoenix, Ariz., where she grew up. "When my mom got on the phone I said, 'Hi, call me back,' then hung up because I didn't want to get charged for the call," said Moore. And the excitement continued Monday night when a "small party of close friends" welcomed her at National Airport to celebrate her victory.

Yesterday, despite a sleepless night brought on by "jet lag and an overdose of Swiss chocolates," the 5-foot-3-inch, 90-pound dancer still looked fresh and almost regal as she sat cross-legged on her bed in the Washington School of Ballet's dormitory.

Her face has the finely chiseled features of a music-box ballerina, accented by two earrings in each ear -- one amethyst the other gold. Her small body was dwarfed by a bulky, rust-colored sweater and brown corduroy slacks -- her dance gear was still in her luggage, which had been lost by the airline. She stroked her favorite stuffed toy seal and talked about her aspirations in dance.

"I've known that I wanted to be a dancer since I was 6," she said, her gray-green eyes shining and her face haloed by perfectly plaited braids. "My mother enrolled my older sister in a dance class and took me along. I remember hearing the music and watching the teacher and not being able to sit still.

"I pulled away from my mother and jumped right in with the class, wearing my street clothes and shoes and everything. The teacher, Mary Moe Adams, just laughed and said to my mother, 'You might as well enroll her, too.' "

Her mother, Marion Moore, recalled in a telephone interview Monday that "When Bonnie was small, I'd have to drag her home kicking and screaming at the end of class, because she always wanted to stay and take the next class. It never occurred to us that we'd have a dancer in the family. I started the girls in dance for poise and health reasons.

"As a parent you're apprehensive when your child gets involved in a competitive field like dance . . . and it's hard for us to have her so far away. But for Bonnie, there was no question that she lived to dance and danced to live."

Moore's interest in dancing professionally became a strong determination when she won a scholarship at age 13 to study one summer with the Joffrey Ballet in New York. There she met Choo San Goh, now assistant artistic director and choreographer with the Washington Ballet.

"When I first saw her that summer I knew she was a girl full of promise," Goh recalls. "She is a very quiet, calm girl who learns very quickly. Bonnie will be standing at the back, watching rehearsal and if you ask her to step in, she does perfectly. She knows the steps like by osmosis."

Goh was a major reason Moore decided to accept a scholarship and move to Washington in September 1980. "I was also very impressed with Mary Day and the girls from Washington who I met at the National Society of Arts and Letters competition in 1980 in New York," Moore said. "During competitions like that, other teachers rush around and change things at the last minute and make everybody tense.

"But Miss Day and her girls seemed so relaxed and confident. Like they were well prepared and would just go out there and dance their best. I liked that, because I think that getting all worked up before a competition doesn't help."

Moore is studying for her high school diploma through a correspondence course run by the University of Nebraska. But her great pastime is fishing.

"She's a fantastic trout fisher," boasts her father, Phoenix pediatrician John Moore. "The family went out to Flagstaff last May and Bonnie skunked us all. Caught her limit 10 in about 30 minutes. She would just put her line in and pull out a fish."

Is this skill related to her dancer's timing and balance? "Nah," he said. "Pure luck."

Moore's dream is "to someday become a principal with the American Ballet Theatre." Were she for some reason unable to continue in dance she would, she said, "become a doctor, like my father."

She carefully sidesteps questions about her immediate future. "I've always followed that motto," she said, pointing to a poster hanging near the bowl that houses her goldfish, Freckles. It reads: "When You're Through Improving Yourself, You're Through."

"My dance teacher from Arizona gave me that, and it's true. No one's ever good enough. There's always room for improvement. Right now, that's something especially important for me to remember."