Page last updated at 10:07 GMT, Wednesday, 21 January 2009
As it happened: Obama inauguration

By Kim Ghattas
BBC News, Washington


The First Couple danced through 10 balls

After a long cold but historic day, it was time to dance the night away. Along with thousands of Americans and Washingtonians, Barack and Michelle Obama put on their dancing shoes and headed out to party.

For a president and an inauguration both full of symbolism, it was befitting that Tuesday night also marked the bicentennial of the tradition of holding inaugural balls.

Across town, dozens of balls were under way but for those hoping to catch a glimpse of the presidential couple, nothing but the official balls would do.

They lined up in orderly queues in the biting cold, their gala gowns and tuxedos only revealed inside after the coats, boots and scarves were removed.

The Washington convention centre in downtown DC was Ball Central, with several balls taking place inside the imposing, white building.

Colombian star Shakira was among the performers at the Neighbourhood Ball

Probably to the relief of the Secret Service, six out of the 10 balls that the president and his wife visited were at the convention centre.

They made their way from one to the other over the course of the evening, somehow managing to avoid the central lobby where members of the media waited assiduously for a glimpse.

America's first couple kicked off the evening by going to the Neighbourhood Ball at the convention centre - an event that was made accessible to the public with cheap tickets, while more tickets were distributed to dozens of Americans selected through neighbourhood committees.

"We are neighbourhood people," Mr Obama said, referring to the reason they chose to highlight this ball first. "This campaign was organised neighbourhood by neighbourhood."

He added that the ball "captured best the spirit of this campaign".

The presidential inaugural committee tried to make the four days of events and celebrations surrounding the inauguration as inclusive as possible by reaching out to ordinary Americans.

The committee also tried to strike a careful balance in the image it projected. At a time of economic crisis, restraint was de rigueur but people had to be given the opportunity to celebrate a historic turning point for their country.

No-one felt it was necessary to be quite as drastic as President Franklin Roosevelt, who cancelled the inaugural balls during the Great Depression and World War II.


The Neighbourhood Ball was a still a star-studded, electrifying event, with Mariah Carey, Queen Latifah and others performing. Beyonce, singing the Etta James classic At Last, serenaded the presidential couple.

Barack Obama dances with guests at the Neighbourhood Ball
The president takes a chance to boogie before moving on to the next ball

Michelle wore a white sequined dress by Taiwan-born designer James Wu, while the president wore a white bow-tie and black tuxedo.

The couple danced a loving two-step, a performance repeated at the Youth Ball, which was another first of its kind event, bringing together young supporters and activists aged 18 to 35. There, they danced to an instrumental version of At Last.

Something about the inaugural balls was quintessentially Washingtonian - a subdued, business-like gathering with a specific goal.

Once the presidential couple had visited a ball, guests started to leave. For those at the last ball, the Southern Regional Ball, which the president visited at around 0230 (0730 GMT), it was a long night of waiting.

For those at the earlier venues, there was still time to catch some of the partying and dancing around town.

Print Sponsor


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific