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Bush attends inaugural balls

Friday, January 21, 2005

Bush attends inaugural balls

WASHINGTON (AP) - Over and over, President George W. Bush and the first lady danced to a musical medley that included "I Could Have Danced All Night.''

Could have, but didn't.

Bush shuttled through his 10-ball dance card at warp speed Thursday night and clocked in back at the White House by 10:03 p.m. (0303 GMT), nearly an hour and a half ahead of schedule.

Setting the tone for the evening, one White House aide flashed an index finger at Secret Service agents and proclaimed, "One down'' as the presidential entourage left Ball No. 1.

The president got a hearty "hoo-ah'' from the crowd at his first stop, the Salute to Heroes Ball, but it was Miss USA 2004 Shandi Finnessey who attracted an even lustier cheer at another inaugural gala.

"I'm never going to pass up an opportunity to see so many men in uniform,'' Finnessey cooed at the Commander in Chief Ball, which paid particular tribute to the military.

"And I may take one of you home tonight.''

Emcee Tommy Lasorda, the former Los Angeles Dodgers coach, could only moan, "Now if only I were 30 again.''

Mimic Rich Little, warming up the crowd for Bush at another ball, promised: "If he doesn't show up for any reason, I will do him for you.'' (He didn't have to.)

The Bushes skipped dancing altogether at their first stop, and twirled all of 1 minute, 6 seconds at Stop 2. By Stop 5, they had it down to 52 seconds.

Cumulative dancing total for all 10 galas: 8 minutes, 54 second.

"It may be the first time in four years,'' Bush had quipped before taking his first turn on the dance floor.

Laura Bush took her twirls in a silver-and-blue V-neck gown by Oscar de la Renta. Presidential twin daughters Jenna and Barbara hovered in the background only briefly in Badgley Mischkas.

Bush wasn't the only inaugural reveler hightailing it home early. Dance-goers were pouring out all the doors by 10 p.m.

Some of the highest-decibel celebrities in Washington were popping up at unofficial parties and receptions.

Actors Joe Pantoliano and Jonathan Lipnicki, the kid who stole scenes from Tom Cruise in "Jerry Maguire,'' were among those lined up for a sold-out event hosted by the Creative Coalition, a nonpartisan advocacy group for actors, writers, singers and other members of the entertainment industry.

"We're celebrating everybody's win - Democrats and Republicans,'' said Pantoliano, co-president of the coalition.

Scratched from the coalition lineup: miffed actor Dennis Hopper, who had planned to co-chair the gala but decided to boycott Washington altogether after being mysteriously scrapped from participating in an official inaugural event.

Around town, 50,000 people gussied up for official balls draped in red-white-and-blue names like Freedom, Liberty, Democracy, Independence, Stars and Stripes.

Some revelers took the patriotic theme to extremes: One Betsy Ross-esque gown featured a glittering blue bodice with white stars and a poufy lower half swathed in wide stripes of red and white.

A sparkling flag handbag completed the gaudy display.

Another fashion don't: comedian Ben Stein, emceeing the Democracy Ball in black tux and green sneakers.

At the Veterans Ball, none other than "Apprentice'' villain Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth held court in a self-described "beautiful, amazing gown.''

"I'm wearing my political hat as opposed to my celebrity hat,'' explained Manigault-Stallworth, who's now managing partner for a political consulting firm.

Pantoliano's take on the inaugural ball scene: "From what I understand, they're mostly about checking your coat and waiting to get it back.''

At the Freedom Ball, Bush told attendees sipping warm champagne and $5 (euro3.90) beers that he was "looking forward to putting my heart and soul into making this country as promising as it can be.''

For some, the festivities were disappointing. At the Patriots Ball, one disgruntled reveler complained, "There's no beef. There's no shrimp. This is the worst ball I've ever been to.''

Pantoliano pledged that his celebrity-powered party wouldn't get the same rap.

"We're not charging for every potato chip and pretzel,'' he said.

"And everyone gets a gift bag.'' Inside? Candles, a coffee table book on the history of Heineken, which sponsored the party, and a DVD of the Chazz Palminteri movie "NOEL.''

It didn't come cheap. A single ticket fetched $1,000 (euro763), with VIP tickets and packages ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 (euro3,800 to euro38,100).

Singer Macy Gray was performing, and notables expected to show included actors Gary Busey, Richard Belzer and Daniel Stern. - AP

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