BALLET instructor and dancer Peter Pawlyshyn hesitates a little when he answers. Yes, 13-year-old Ebony Williams has all the right stuff to possibly be a great ballerina: the intense determination, the work ethic, even the right temperament at her young age.
And her tall, slender body moves with astonishing grace for a young teenager who usually wears Levis, bowls sometimes on the weekends, and can also dance like Michael Jackson.
"But there is a part of a person you can never touch, that deepest part that drives someone to be great," Mr. Pawlyshyn says, "and so we don't know yet if she has it."
Ebony's mother, Deborah Williams, says her daughter has been dancing since she was one year old, loving to jiggle in front of a TV set while Michael Jackson danced in "Thriller."
Yet, even with the heady praise of professionals who know her, Ebony may dance away from dancing. "I want to be an architect," she says quietly, sitting in the atrium of the Boston Ballet Center, waiting for her class to begin. "Dance will always be a part of me, but I'm not sure I'm going to dance as a career," she says. "Some day I'd like to open a dance school for kids who can't afford to pay."
One week of this holiday season, Ebony was seen briefly in the Boston Ballet's performance of the "The Nutcracker." In a white unitard, she danced as one of the reindeers in front of a sleigh, a role she won after auditioning.
Four days a week, Ebony makes her way from school in Roxbury where she is an eighth grader and arrives by 3:30 at the ballet center.
She has been a scholarship student since 1991 in the Boston Ballet's CityDance program, which encourages youngsters who otherwise might never have known about ballet. Public school students in Boston and nearby Lynn are chosen on the basis of flexibility, musical receptivity, and interest in taking such classes.
While the Boston Ballet hopes some of these students will make careers in dance and continue to integrate the company, the aim is to give children an opportunity to test themselves physically and intellectually.
"Dancing makes me relax and show what I feel, whether I'm mad or upset," Ebony says, "and some days I really feel good and love to dance."
Pawlyshyn thinks Ebony's hesitancy about a dancing career at this point is healthy. "Some of the dance students here get so involved in dance that they can't see the forest through the trees," he says. "So I think Ebony has her priorities straight. As dancers, we realize our professional careers are short. Maybe after a few years of dancing she can go on to prepare herself as an architect, if that is what she wants."