Obamas get the balls rolling with style

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON - After the daylong inaugural celebration on the Mall, last night was the time for thousands to party at the balls.

Festivities began across Washington at 8 p.m. as people checked their overcoats, hats and gloves to reveal, in many cases, tuxedos and evening gowns at a series of inaugural balls and parties capping a historic day. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were scheduled to stop at 10 of the official balls, spreading the inauguration bash into the early-morning hours.

Their first stop was the Neighborhood Ball, in honor of his new Washington neighborhood. Obama told the crowd the first-ever ball represented the heart of his campaign - neighborhood organization.

"We are going to need you not just today, not just tomorrow, but this year, the next four years and who knows after that ... to change America," said Obama, wearing a white tie to match his wife's flowing ivory gown.

As Beyonce sang "At Last," the first couple had their first dance, closing their eyes as they swayed along with the music, both mouthing the words at one point. At the end, the audience erupted in a chant of "O-Bam-A!"

Next, the Obamas went to a ball honoring residents from their home states of Hawaii and Illinois.

"Aloha," he told the cheering crowd. "What's going on?"

"Together, you've given us so much, so many of you got involved not just in my campaign but got involved in our lives many, many years ago," he continued. "Each of you has the power to make change. If you remember our motto, 'Yes we can,' yes we did in this election. Yes we shall, in creating the kind of country that our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren, can all thrive in."

Jacky Grimshaw, a longtime neighborhood activist from the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago who lived next door to the Obamas, said the nation's tough times cast a bit of a cloud over the festivities.

"I was at [Jimmy] Carter's ball, and [Bill] Clinton's, and they were much more upbeat. But maybe the times call for us to be more sober," said Grimshaw, vice president for policy at the Center for Neighborhood Technology. "Every day, more and more people lose their jobs. What's going on in Gaza, that could be another hot war America could be dragged into. ... There are a lot of sobering issues."

At the Commander-in-Chief's Ball, a gala for military personnel and their families at the cavernous National Building Museum, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, preceded the Obamas.

They shared their first inaugural dance to an instrumental version of "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You."

Dr. Biden, who caused a mini-Internet uproar over the length of her skirt at the swearing-in ceremony, wore a strapless, cherry-red ball gown.

"I may not be able to dance, but I've got a hell of an eye, don't I?" Biden asked the crowd whistling in appreciation for his wife.

Biden reminded the crowd that he, too, belongs to a military family and spoke with pride about his son Beau's deployment to Iraq and being an Army dad.

"I can tell you without reservation that that is a greater honor than being vice president," Biden said.

Though many military personnel declined to discuss their political opinions, the attendees roared loudly at the mention of their new commander-in-chief. Lt. Derrick Read, who is black, said he's proud to serve under the first African-American president.

"It definitely shows how far we've come in this country," he said. "But he's more than just a black president. He's the people's president, and I'm honored to serve under him."

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