NEW ORLEANS - It started as an inside joke for her friends, and now she has more than 100,000 followers on Instagram.
28-year old Shelby Williams has family members in River Ridge and started taking dance lessons in Baton Rouge when she was a toddler. Today, she's a soloist with the Royal Ballet of Flanders, a professional ballet company in Belgium.
About a year ago, Williams started posting short videos of herself dancing badly-- just to make her ballet friends laugh. Instead of graceful movements, Williams spoofed ballet's insistence on perfection with awkward movements and "over the top caricatures." Other dancers loved the videos, and started sending Williams videos of their own goofball moments-- some planned, some not. That's when Williams started an Instagram account called "Biscuit Ballerina."
Why "biscuit"? Turns out, it's a disparaging term ballerinas use to criticize other dancers who's feet are not perfectly pointed. "'Biscuit' in ballet is slang for bad feet," says Williams. "They might say someone is a beautiful dancer but she doesn't have the right feet for ballet."
From a few videos in the beginning to thousands today, "Biscuit Ballerina" has been reaching an ever larger audience, and well beyond ballet.
"I found that there a lot of people in the performing arts, actors and singers who started following me, because they could relate to the obsession with perfection in the same way."
Besides performers, Williams has found a new group of Instagram fans: Teenagers.
"That generation lives on their phones," she says. "They're not seeing people face to face.. they're seeing people their age looking flawless but they're only seeing their best, edited moments."
Williams says teenagers' comments on her Instagram account are overwhelmingly positive. "They'll say it's refreshing to see someone purposely looking bad and saying it's totally fine to look bad, it's normal, it's human, it can even be funny."
In fact, some of Williams' most popular videos are posted in a segment she calls "Falling Fridays." Dancers from all over the world send her cringe-worthy videos of themselves falling in rehearsals, and on stage.
Williams says that she was worried about what the managers of her ballet company would think of her when they found out about "Biscuit Ballerina," but they've embraced it-- even allowing her time off for speaking engagements to encourage teenagers to accept their imperfections without getting discouraged.
"That feeling of not being good enough," she says, "in something that you enjoy doing, and having that block you... You have to let it go and laugh things off sometimes. "
Editor's note: The music box ballerina that begins our video report is at "Le Jouet Toy Store" in Metairie.