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Washington Gets Decked Out For Inaugural Balls

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Kelly Jacobs, who came from Mississippi to attend President Obama's inauguration, made her gown for the ball herself.
Sabri Ben-Achour
Kelly Jacobs, who came from Mississippi to attend President Obama's inauguration, made her gown for the ball herself.

Washington was the scene of innumerable unofficial inaugural balls last night, there were only two official balls, both of them held at the Washington Convention Center.

Alicia Keyes rang in the night with a personalized version of her hit song, "Girl on Fire," changing the words to "Obama's on fire." Everything in the ballroom — which was big enough to fit the Sears Tower or the Washington Monument in sideways, was draped in blue. Officials expected 40,000 people in black tie and gown to attend the event.

But what, really, does one do at an inaugural party?

"We bought a bunch of drink tickets. Walk around and take pictures. Basically be happy we’re here and make fun of our friends who aren't here," said Kumar Rao, who came from New York City to the inauguration.

People also dance. Mike and Vivian Greentree came over from Alexandria for the Commander in Chief's Ball to celebrate the armed services, and Vivian was definitely looking forward to a slow dance.

"Just getting to hang out with other military families, hanging out with my wife, of course," said Mike Greentree, who will deploy to Bahrain next week. "I'm going to deploy next week so it's kind of a last hurrah."

Some attendees paid $1,000 per ticket, others getting discounts for volunteering or being invited.

"Well, I'm just thrilled to be here and witness Barack Obama reelected for a second term," said Marcia Dickson, from D.C. "And I know he's going to see everything through that he promised and we're going to turn this nation into the nation it was always meant to be."

Theo LeCompte helped put on the ball, which served dinner, including  2,000 lbs of tortellini, 2,000 lbs of penne and 750 gallons of pasta sauce.

"A cake up stairs that weighs over 50 pounds and can feed over 1,000 people," LeCompte said.  But, "at the end of the day, what's important are the experiences of the people here."

Also important are the dresses. Everyone was talking about what Michelle Obama would wear, but the ball was a chance for everyone to put on their best. One woman, Kelly Jacobs, took hers very seriously, making it herself in order to honor the president — literally — on the gown.

"I purchased 4,000 antique sequins and sewed 2,000 on the black side because he's black, and 2,000 on the white side on the front because he’s just as white as he is black," said Jacobs, who was attending the ball from Mississippi. "It's the image of the president Obama on the front in black and white, and on the back in white and black."

It took her two weeks to sew all those sequins, she said.

After appearances by the band FUN and Brad Paisley, came the moment everyone was waiting for. President Obama, in a tuxedo with a white tie, and the First Lady, in a floor-length, shimmering, red dress, danced as Jennifer Hudson sang Al Green's "Let's Stay Together."

The crowd became a sea of smartphones as everyone tried to capture the inaugural dance. Daisy Cruz from D.C. waited all night for that moment.

"The dance? I loved it. Adorable," she said. "They should be together forever."

In a few days, people will go back to talking about debt ceilings and sequesters, but last night at least, it was all about having a good time.

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