The little girl looked nervous as she walked up to the small table where Jai Hinson sat.
Camryn DaCosta, 8, has been dancing ever since she could walk. But on Saturday morning, the girl, clad in a pair of black tights and a pink T-shirt, had to show off her skills for Hinson, a national choreographer.
Now it was judgment time.
"Do you take dance?" Hinson asked, glancing down at a sheet of paper. The girl shook her head.
Hinson looked up, and smiled.
"Well, you did very well for your first audition," Hinson said, pausing for a moment. "Congratulations, you've made it to Chocolate Nutcracker! You're going to have five scenes."
Hinson began clapping. Others in the room joined in.
The girl glided away, beaming. Her mother was waiting with arms outstretched.
On Saturday, dozens of young people kicked off their summer vacation at the Enoch Davis Center on 18th Avenue S.
They were there hoping to land a spot in a Christmas tradition: the Tampa Bay production of the Chocolate Nutcracker. This year's production, the 14th, will be on Dec, 17 at the Mahaffey Theater.
Hinson presided over the auditions Saturday. She's been with the production since the beginning, and has earned the nickname "Momma Jai."
"You don't have to have any experience, you don't have to pay for classes," Hinson said. "If you have the desire to be part of the production, you can be."
About 200 youths and adults will end up in the final show, Hinson said.
Like Camryn, most of the kids who tried out Saturday have never been in a production before.
Hinson said that doesn't matter in the long run. Organizers bring in professional choreographers and dancers to work with the cast, she said.
At the end of summer, they'll attend a special camp. And in the fall, they'll rehearse every weekend.
"It takes a lot of heart to come out here," Hinson said. "It's up to us to help increase their skills and take them to the next level. … When you see these kids in December, you won't recognize them."
Kameel Stanley can be reached at email@example.com.