Next to being an elf, the ultimate Christmas season gig for little people may be a role in the New York City Ballet's annual production of The Nutcracker, Tchaikovsky's classic ballet about toy soldiers, malevolent mice and dancing snowflakes. This year's show features 200 dancing feet belonging to 100 children who perform on alternate nights in casts of 50. Two of those feet belong to Margaret Parvin, 10, a typical Manhattan fourth grader who, for the four-week run, is moonlighting as a toy soldier. "I fight with the mice, and we get to run around a lot," says Parvin. "It's not too bad."

A freckle-faced brunet, Parvin rehearsed twice weekly, two hours a session, for six weeks. A ballet student for a year and a half, she says that auditioning for her professional debut "got me a little nervous, but I knew I could do it. Now it's the slow stuff I really like, not the running around." Parvin also studies gymnastics and would like someday to compete in the Olympics. "If I can't do that," she says, "I'll be a lawyer." For the time being, says her mom, Mary, 40, a real estate broker, Margaret's life "is on a normal track. She likes chocolate eclairs, The Cosby Show and stuffed bears. She even has an older brother who says he'll go see The Nutcracker only under duress."

On opening night, with her mom and dad, Fred, 46, an antique carpet dealer, watching, Parvin performed perfectly. "Not a slip," says Mary. "Hearing the applause, she was transfixed. She loved it." Someday, Margaret says, she'd like to play the Sugarplum Fairy, The Nutcracker's plum role. "That's my dream," she says, grinning. "But being a toy soldier is for real."