Sydney Thompson, 10, doesn't believe nerves will take over when she makes her debut this weekend in The Atlantic City Ballet's production of "The Nutcracker."

Thompson, of Galloway Township, has been dancing since age 3. She also has done commercials and short films. So, it will be nothing new performing on a large stage in front of hundreds of strangers Dec. 7 and 8 in the Performing Arts Center at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in Pomona.

"I'm really excited, and I'm grateful that I get to do it because I'm new, and it's really fun," said Thompson, who started with the Atlantic City Ballet last year. She will be dancing the role of one of the young girls attending the Christmas party at the ballet's start.

"The Nutcracker," a dance performance that has turned into a holiday ritual for some families, is unusual because there are dance parts for young children. The ballet allows children or students of dance to work with and watch professional dancers to see if they want to make dance a career.

Faith Scott, 11, of the Whiting section of Manchester Township in Ocean County, has seen the Atlantic City Ballet's performance of "The Nutcracker" annually since she was 3. It was her dream to dance in "The Nutcracker." She will do so for the first time this year with Atlantic City Ballet.

"I'm excited and happy to be in it," Scott said.

A sixth-grader at All Saints Regional Catholic School in the Manahawkin section of Stafford Township, Scott has sung and acted in the other musicals including "Alice In Wonderland," "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin" at school. She started with the Atlantic City Ballet this year after her mother, Regina Scott, visited the company's website and realized there was a chance for her daughter to be in "The Nutcracker."

Mom drives 45 minutes one way to have her daughter be a part of the company.

This is the first time the preteen has worked so closely with professional dancers. She enjoys watching them perform, but also sees how hard they work. She finds the most difficult thing about ballet is focusing on the technique and what comes next in the choreography.

The elementary-school student would still like to be a professional dancer at this point.

At age 14, Caitlin Bond, of Ocean City, is already a veteran of the Atlantic City Ballet and "The Nutcracker." She has been dancing with the company for the past 11 years and has been in "The Nutcracker" for eight years playing roles that include a mouse, a soldier, a party girl and angels.

"When I was first in 'The Nutcracker,' I was a mouse. I was really excited, and I was also really scared because I didn't want to mess up," said Bond, who will play the lead child role of Clara for the third time this year. "In the first show that I was Clara, I was also really nervous, but I was pretty excited because it was a really big deal to me. It was a dream come true."

Bond, a freshman at Ocean City High School, said being around the professional dancers at the Atlantic City Ballet for "The Nutcracker" helps a young person realize the importance of stage presence among other things.

"They correct us and help us improve. They help give us confidence and help us not be as nervous," Bond said.

During a recent Saturday rehearsal of "The Nutcracker" by the Atlantic City Ballet, there was no doubt who was in charge of the children and adults., Phyllis Papa, the director and choreographer of the ballet, ran the rehearsal and did whatever it took - whether it was telling or showing - to move the dancers in a way she thought was best for the party scene that takes place during the ballet.

Papa has 25 adults, who are professional dancers, and 20 children participating in the production.

The school-age children receive a glimpse into what a dance career is all about by being mixed in with professional dancers for "The Nutcracker" performances, Papa said.

"They learn a lot by watching professional dancers do some of the things that they even do, but at a different level. I think it helps their resume to be dancing with a professional company, and I think it also let's them know whether this is the kind of field they want to go into. They get to see professional dancers first hand, which they don't get in school," said Papa, who has been doing "The Nutcracker" for 30 years.

The New Jersey Ballet in Livingston, Essex County, another dance company that mixes professionals with children, will perform its version of "The Nutcracker" at 1 and 4 p.m. Dec. 9 at the Middle Township Performing Arts Center in Cape May Court House.

Paul McRae, the company's assistant artistic director, said the company will come with 30 professionals, 14 dancers in the school's intensive program, and 14 local children being trained at the Art of Gymnastics and Cheer in Rio Grande. McRae will work with the local children for their final and dress rehearsals.

"For me, it's always exciting each year when we get to 'Nutcracker.' I get to go around and audition the children in the different venues where we are going to be performing," McRae said. "It's always exciting to see bright, young faces, who are raring to go, get out there and show their stuff. It's nice to see young talent. It's also great to encourage young talent. This is an opportunity for them to work with professional dancers and see how a professional production pulls together."

About 20 children between the ages of 6 and 10 will portray angels and snowflakes and dance in "The Nutcracker" for the first time during the Vineland Regional Dance Company's performances on Dec. 15 and 16 at the Frank Guaracini Fine & Performing Arts Theater at Cumberland County College in Vineland, said Kimberly Chapman, the artistic director.

"It takes a lot of patience," Chapman said. "This is our 35th anniversary performance this year. It's been the same choreography. They have to rise to that choreography."

Contact Vincent Jackson:

609-272-7202

'Nutcracker' performances

Atlantic City Ballet

•10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. Friday and 1 and 5 p.m. Saturday in the Performing Arts Center at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, Galloway Township. Tickets $20, $35. Children's tickets $10 when accompanied by an adult. Visit stockton.edu/pac or call 609-652-9000. Box office hours 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday and 90 minutes before the performance.

•3 and 7 p.m. Dec. 15 in Wilson Hall at Rowan University, 201 Mullica Hill Road, Glassboro, Gloucester County. Tickets $30 adults, $28 seniors, $15 children age 12 and younger. Visit acballet.ticketleap.com

•With The Garden State Philharmonic at 7 p.m. Dec. 22 in The Strand Theatre, 400 Clifton Ave., Lakewood, Ocean County. Tickets $12, $32, $35. Visit acballet.org

Ballet for Young Audience

1 and 3 p.m. Dec. 9 in The Arts & Community Center - Building 18 at Ocean County College, College Drive, Toms River. Tickets $12 for adults and seniors. Call 732-255-0500 or visit ocean.universitytickets.com

Moscow Ballet's

"Great Russian Nutcracker"

2 and 9 p.m. today in The Concert Venue at Harrah's Resort in Atlantic City. Tickets $33, $48, $125 and are available at the Harrah's box office, through Ticketmaster at 800-736-1420 or ticketmaster.com

New Jersey Ballet

1 and 4 p.m. Dec. 9 at the Middle Township Performing Arts Center, 212 Bayberry Drive, Cape May Court House. Adults $25, seniors $20, students $15 and children 10 and younger $12. Tickets at the box office or at 609-463-1924.

Vineland Regional Dance Company

1 and 5 p.m. Dec. 15 and 2 p.m. Dec. 16 at the Frank Guaracini Fine & Performing Arts Theater at Cumberland County College, 3322 College Drive, Vineland. Tickets $35 front orchestra and mezzanine, $25 back orchestra and mezzanine and $20 senior citizen and students orchestra and mezzanine. For tickets, visit vrdc.org