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It was only Amber Lynn Lindke's second pageant. But when she stepped into the spotlight March 5 to compete for the title of Miss Niagara County, she did have one advantage: she has spent much more time on stage than your average 18-year-old.

After years of dancing with the Lockport City Ballet, Lindke is an accomplished ballerina, and she credits her poise with much of her success.

"Forty percent of the score is your interview standing up in front of eight judges at a podium," said Lindke, who was the youngest of eight contestants.

"You don't get that by smiling and looking pretty. You do it by influencing them and answering their questions appropriately."

The pageant was worth $4,000 in scholarship money to the Lockport High School senior, whose mother, Susan, is a teacher for the Board of Cooperative Educational Services, and father, Gregory, is self-employed.

She is the second of four children, with two brothers and an infant sister.

In her first week after being crowned, she made four appearances at legislative receptions, an American Businesswoman's Association luncheon and the Iney Wallens radio show. Next up is getting ready for the state competition. "I'm definitely going to be preparing for the next three months."

Some competitors move from county to county trying to get into the state competition, so they have more pageant experience, she said.

"This is the first time I did my county pageant, so it's going to be challenging for me, especially competing against girls who have completed four years of college," she said. "But we'll see."

Right off the bat, you're speaking at a businesswomen's luncheon in front of 200 people?

I just introduced myself. I will be promoting myself and my platform issue: research toward curing leukemia. My grandfather is actually going through leukemia now, so it seemed like an appropriate thing.

How did you get into pageants?

I actually did a Junior Miss pageant in Lockport, and I was the first runner-up. I felt really comfortable doing it, and I had a really strong talent.

I train with the Lockport City Ballet, and I'm very serious about dancing. It just seemed like the right thing for me, and everyone told me I was very natural at it. My mom definitely helped persuade me into it.

When was that Junior Miss pageant?

It was in, I think, November.

So you became Miss Niagara County in your second pageant ever? I thought most pageant contestants started out younger.

Some of these girls in this pageant have gone back three or four times to try to win. I've done a little bit of modeling before, and this just seemed like the right thing.

Modeling for whom?

It was for a cheerleading magazine, out of Rochester, actually. It was called "Teen Cheer." I used to cheer too, for three years.

Do you still do cheerleading?

No. Actually, I took a break senior year so I could focus in on ballet.

Was it the ballet, all that time on stage, that led to your pageant experience?

It was definitely one of the reasons why I did this. A lot of the girls go into it not really having a strong talent. Some of them do monologues and stuff, so I think they just sort of look for something. But this is something that I've always done, and I feel very comfortable with. That's what I feel most comfortable with, doing my dance.

What are the other segments of the contest?

The interview is 40 percent. There's a swimsuit. There's an on-stage question. You have no idea what it is, which can be anything, so it's pretty scary.

What was your question?

They asked me, if I could be anyone living or dead, who would I be and why. I said Princess Diana, because she was very motivated and tried to help underprivileged children in other countries, and stuff like that.

There's also an evening wear section, where you have to wear a really nice dress.

What kind of dress did you wear?

It was peach, like strapless . . . You know, it's really not a beauty pageant. This is something more about young, talented, motivated, intelligent young women. It's really not a beauty pageant.

A lot of people have that impression, don't they?

Yes, but I definitely want to make that clear. I didn't win it because I was the prettiest girl, or whatever. There's so much more to it that people don't know about.

Well, maybe you just happened to be the prettiest girl, too.

(Laughing.) I don't know about that.