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Obamas dance to 'At Last'
WASHINGTON -- "At Last" may have been just what President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle were thinking Tuesday night as they glided through their first inaugural dance to the Etta James classic.
The Obamas were the star attraction at the Neighborhood Ball, the first of 10 inaugural celebrations they planned to attend, going into the early hours of Wednesday. The celebrations marked the end of a long day of formal inaugural events and the two-year campaign that put them in the White House.
The president pulled his wife close and they danced a slow, dignified two-step while, offstage, Beyonce sang. The president spun first lady Michelle Obama once in a half-turn.
Obama cut loose in a faster groove a few minutes later, as Shakira, Mary J. Blige, Faith Hill and Mariah Carey sang along with Stevie Wonder to his "Sign, Sealed, Delivered." The song was played at nearly every one of Obama's rallies throughout the campaign.
The president wore white tie, while Michelle shimmered in a white, one-shouldered, floor-length gown. It was embellished from top to bottom with white floral details and made by 26-year-old New York designer Jason Wu.
"First of all, how good looking is my wife?" Obama asked the crowd of celebrities and supporters alike.
At their second ball, the president pulled the first lady much closer than he did on their first dance. At one point, he wrapped both arms around her waist and locked his fingers together at the small of her back.
"I hope all of you will remember what this campaign and hopefully this presidency is all about," Obama said. "It's about you, pitching in, working together, trying to get past our differences in order to create the kind of world we want to pass on to our children and America."
At the Commander in Chief Ball, Vice President Joe Biden saluted the nation's military men and women and then said he wasn't looking forward to his moment in the spotlight -- the dancing, that is.
"The thing that frightens me the most (is) I'm going to have to stand in that circle and dance in a minute." At that, he laughed and did a quick sign of the cross.
Despite the formal attire and celebrity entertainment, balls aren't overly fancy affairs. Lines often are long to get in, go to the bathroom or check your coat, and the food is heavy on vegetables with dip and cheese cubes.
In a sign of the financial times, guests who already paid anywhere from $75 for a ticket to thousands more for a package deal had to buy their own drinks served in small plastic cups. Beer went for $6, cocktails for $9 and champagne for $12.
People waited in line over an hour at Union Station to get into the Eastern States Ball. Because of very limited seating at the Western ball, a number of attendees in long gowns and fancy dress plopped cross-legged on the floor.
"This is what happens in a down economy. No chairs, no highboys -- it's the floor and plastic cups," commented ballgoer Brig Lawson, 38, of Las Vegas.
Most of the ladies wore black like their dates, but Patrick Landers was an exception in his kilt at the Biden Home States Ball. The 33-year-old Washington attorney moved to the United States from Ireland in 1998.
"I'm here to celebrate this great day and the beginning of a transformation in the United States and the rest of the world in creating a more inclusive society," Landers said.
Not everyone was so thrilled to be attending a ball. Singer Sheryl Crow, doing a sound check for a performance later at the Midwestern Ball, said she was homesick.
"I have not seen my child in four days. I'm miserable," she told her band between songs.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)