In May 1986, three friends, all dance majors from Duke Ellington School of the Arts, entered the Miss D.C. Teen contest. One of them, 17-year-old Ni'Cole Elayne Bobbitt of Northeast Washington, came so close to winning that she could almost feel the rhinestone tiara sliding sideways on her head. Instead, she was named first runner-up.

This year, Bobbitt tried it again: On May 3, she was crowned Miss D.C. Teen, and will compete July 21 in El Paso for the title of Miss Teen U.S.A.

The object of this nationwide teen-queen search is to find the most articulate, personable girl and to help make some of her dreams come true. The winner will receive more than $100,000 in prizes, including a scholarship, a car, a modeling contract and a fur coat.

"My family has always taught me to believe in myself and to go after what I want. Knowing that they are always there for me, no matter what, gives me the confidence I need to be myself and to go for it," Bobbitt said.

In the D.C. contest, Bobbitt also was named the Contestants' Choice (the participant most liked by the others) and Miss Photogenic.

Originally from Dayton, Ohio, Bobbitt moved here in 1985 with her mother Annette. She has studied dance since age 4 and has performed professionally since age 12 when she joined the Dayton Contemporary Dance Troupe. She plans to continue studying dance and drama in college. "I love entertaining, but just in case my career is short-lived or takes a wrong turn somewhere along the way, I plan to earn a law degree as well," she said.

Bobbitt has received a lot of recognition since moving to Washington. She placed second in the D.C. competition for Hal Jackson's Talented Teen contest held last July at Eastern High School. She also was one of 10 area young people to win an award in the NAACP-sponsored Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technical, Scientific Olympics program, which is funded in part by the D.C. Lottery. The program seeks to encourage and reward black youths who excel in academics and the arts.