Some clutched their stomachs with wiry arms, as if to hold nervous bodies together. Some shifted from foot to foot, searching for a stance suggesting the proper combination of grace and calm. Some grimaced. Some giggled. Some of the smaller ones grasped each other's hands.

And some of the nearly 200 9- to 12-year-old girls auditioning for parts in The New York City Ballet's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Kennedy Center yesterday seemed unable to stop jumping up and down in a way less suggestive of ballet than of terror.

"This is sort of big," said No. 82, 12-year-old Laurel Beveridge of Vienna, from between what looked to be nearly clenched teeth as she waited to be taken into the audition room.

"Really big," said her friend, No. 81, Kathleen McEnany, also 12 years old.

The two girls have been dancing for more than five years, but this particular event called for a little special preparation. Both tried to lose some weight, and Laurel said her mother was so excited about the audition she joined her on the diet.

But, Laurel insisted, "I don't want to do this when I grow up."

"I do," her friend admitted, but added, "My mother doesn't. She thinks it's too hard."

"I don't think they get paid very much," said Laurel of professional dancers. "My mother said that."

Mothers.

One girl, who will remain nameless for the sake of domestic tranquility, said she hoped she didn't get a part as a butterfly, fairy or page.

"If I do make it, I'll be unhappy," the 9-year-old said, smiling. "If my mother knew that, she'd throw a book at me." So why was she there? "My mother. That's what all mothers do."

Adjusting hair ribbons, holding ballet bags, pursing their lips and waiting, the mothers filled the Hall of Nations. "What's going on?" strangers asked each other. "Have you heard anything?"

"It has to be better in there than out here -- they know what's happening," said Nancy Villani of Gaithersburg as she waited for her daughter Julie.

"Never having seen an audition, we have no idea what's going on in there," laughed Grace Becker of Reston, mother of Sydney, 10. "We tried the doors. You can't get in."

Past those doors and downstairs, The New York City Ballet's assistant ballet mistress for children, Garielle Whittle, was steadily repeating the same words over and over.

"Glissade, assemble', changement, changement,," she said rhythmically as one girl after another slid, thumped, trembled and -- occasionally -- danced her way through the movements.

"I try to be as warm and as understanding and as friendly as I can be," said Whittle, who will start rehearsals today with the lucky 30 (who will rotate in the 26 parts). The ballet will run from Oct. 1 through 6 at the Kennedy Center.

And when thin legs got jumbled and string-bean arms hung limply, Whittle did give gentle corrections. But as the nervous hum grew inside the large audition room, the discipline of a woman who danced with The New York City Ballet for 14 years emerged.

"Girls," she said in a voice as hard as the mirrors along the walls, "if I see you're talking, I can't even consider using you."

Silence.

"It's a shame we can't use them all," Whittle said before the auditions began. "I see them in tears afterwards. Some of them have a real difficult time with rejection at that age."

When it came time to weed out the first group, Whittle read a series of numbers; some faces lit up and some did not. A few minutes later, the leotards and tears appeared at those locked doors and mothers collected their daughters.

"You tell yourself, 'They say they want long legs and pretty feet, and maybe you're just not what they're looking for,' " 12-year-old Mara Vucich of Rockville said, describing the way she consoles herself after an unsuccessful tryout. Mara has auditioned for summer schools (and not made it) and a previous tour of The New York City Ballet (and made that). Yesterday, after the first cut, she was still in the running.

Others, however, were on their way home. Some were indeed in tears, but some still radiated a certain excitement.

"When I came -- it's like I had nervous energy, and I was prepared not to get into the semifinals," said Sydney Becker.

"We already knew," said 11-year-old Jennifer Moss.

Downstairs, in the mirrored room, Whittle was watching the second round of 91 girls, of whom she would pick 30.

"It's wonderful for them," she said of what the 30 will experience over the next month. "The glamor and the magic of being with the company and putting on those beautiful costumes and wearing makeup. I've never had a kid get stage fright -- it's usually just the opposite. You can't get them off the stage."