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Update | 12:45 a.m.
The Obamas have been zooming through their 10 official balls and are now running more than an hour ahead of schedule.
The whole ball tour was supposed to end at 2:55 a.m., but they’re wrapping it up before 12:45. And who can blame them? By the fifth and sixth of these things, the first couple were clearly operating on fumes.
All night they’ve been leaning back and forth in lieu of dancing, and stepping on Mrs. Obama’s dress; he’s been saying he wants to dance with “the one that brung me,” and he tells the crowds that his wife is doing everything he does except backwards and in heels. The difference is that for the last few balls, they have actually looked exhausted.
Still, the point of going to all these balls is to thank the campaign workers and donors — and keep them energized for future fights.
By now, Mr. Obama has boiled down his thank-you speech to less than a minute. At their last ball, for Eastern states, held at Union Station, he lapsed into a bit of campaign-speak.
“Today was your day,” he said. “Today was a day that represented all your efforts, all your faith, all your confidence in what’s possible in America. They said it couldn’t be done. And you did it.”
He called on his supporters to apply the same energy to governing and to rebuilding communities that they did to the campaign. “Yes we can,” the crowd cheered.
He also ended with some indirect criticism of the Bush era. “There is something in the spirit of the American people that insists on recreating this country when we get a little bit off course,” he said. “That’s what powered this election, it’s what’s given our team the kind of energy that has allowed us to overcome extraordinary obstacles and given me so much confidence that our better days are ahead.”
His final reminder was this: to understand “that this is not the end, this is the beginning.”
He then asked his wife for “one last dance” and cued the band — for the same song, “At Last,” that they’ve been dancing to all night.
So that’s a wrap. And they headed home. At last.
At the Youth Ball | 10:47 p.m. Eastern Mr. and Mrs. Obama took the stage at the Youth Ball at the Washington Hilton around 10:35 p.m., where Mr. Obama gave extra hosannas to those who helped get win election.
“When you look at the history of this campaign, what started out as an improbable journey, where nobody gave us a chance, was carried forward by, was inspired by, was driven by, was energized by young people all across America,” Mr. Obama said.
The audience gave him huge applause and started chanting, “Yes we can!”
He went on to give them a campaign-style pep talk, which we’ve transcribed for you below. But he also commented on his dance moves, which have been creating some buzz all night, mostly because watching him dance was a surprise. Rather like seeing him bowl last year during the Pennsylvania primary, you expected it to be a little more polished, a little smoother.
Mr. Obama, it turns out, specializes in the slow sway of guys who aren’t super-comfortable on the dance floor. And he will occasionally throw in a twirl.
But what his style may have lacked in panache, it certainly made up in passion. He and his wife cuddle and coo and smooch and are very comfortable — they even look happy — in each other’s arms.
So all of this chatter about dancing prompted him to say after a turn on the floor at the Youth Ball, “That’s what’s called ‘Old School.’ ” Everyone laughed.
Anyway, back to his speech to the young folks.
Mr. Obama told them: “I can’t tell you how many people have come up to Michelle and myself and said, ‘You know, I was kind of skeptical, but then my daughter, she wouldn’t budge, she just told me I needed to vote for Obama.’ Or, ‘Suddenly I saw my son, he was out volunteering and knocking on doors and traveling and getting involved like never before.’ And so new generations inspired previous generations, and that’s how change happens in America.”
He said this applied not just to campaigns but to service, like teaching or joining the Peace Corps.
“And as this is broadcast all around the world,” he added, “we know that young people everywhere are in the process of imagining something different than what has come before. Where there is war, they imagine peace. Where there is hunger, they imagine people being able to feed themselves. Where there is disease, they imagine a public health system that works for everybody. Where there is bigotry, they imagine togetherness. The future will be in your hands if you are able to sustain the kind of energy and focus that you showed on this campaign. I promise you that America will get stronger and more united, more prosperous, more secure — you are going to make it happen, and Michelle and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
And then this: “Hit it, band.”
Then it was on to Joe Biden’s “Home States” ball, for Pennsylvania and Delaware. And he was only halfway through his night of dancing.
Speaking to the Troops | 9:55 p.m. Mr. Obama speaks solemnly to service members at the Commander-in-Chief ball. “Every day that I’m in the White House, I’ll try to serve you as well as you serve America,” he says. And he promises that, together with the troops, “we will write the next great chapter in America’s story.” Then he talks by satellite video link with some soldiers from Illinois who are serving in Afghanistan.
There’s some friendly banter with the soldiers about their baseball preferences. Only one of the five tells the White-Sox-fan-in-chief that she is a Sox fan, too; the rest say they root for the Cubs.
More on the Ball Gown | 9:22 p.m. A few more details about the gown are filtering in. It’s made of ivory silk chiffon, embellished with organza and Swarovski crystal rhinestones and silver thread embroidery. It was custom designed and made exclusively for Mrs. Obama, said Gina Pepe, Mr. Wu’s spokeswoman.
Home States | 9:11 p.m. The First Couple’s next ball — the Home States ball (Hawaii and Illinois) — is just down the hallway from the Neighborhood ball at the Washington Convention Center. “Aloha,” Mr. Obama says to the crowd. “You’re not new friends, you’re old friends, and for that we’re grateful to you,” he says. His presidency is not just about him making the country better, he says, but “about all of you.” He asks the crowd to remember his motto, “Yes, we can.” They’re having a bit of trouble dancing because they keep stepping on her dress. But that doesn’t stop the president from giving his wife a twirl. Now the two have wrapped their arms around each other and are sloooow dancing. And after about two minutes, they’re off to the next event — the Commander in Chief ball at the National Building Museum.
Now Where’d They Go? | 9:01 p.m. Well, this set-up with exclusive deals for certain TV networks to broadcast means this is not the most accessible inauguration ever, as the inaugural planners keep saying. It’s frustrating for anyone who wants to follow the new president’s path tonight, although those who paid big bucks to attend the balls are probably quite happy.
We’re left to contemplate the mystery of Mrs. Obama’s dress. The designer, Jason Wu, is a young New York designer whom Mrs. Obama has worn before.
He’s 26 and from Taiwan and told The Wall Street Journal recently that he had never imagined that Mrs. Obama might wear one of his designs at the inaugural balls.
Signed, Sealed, Delivered | 8:44 p.m. We didn’t get to see much of the first dance, but we are watching Jamie Foxx tell the crowd at the Neighborhood ball: “You can tell that was a black president by the way he was moving.”
Mr. and Mrs. Obama are now group dancing to Stevie Wonder singing, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” (And lots of other are joining them.)
At Last … | 8:37 p.m. It’s the first dance. And thwack! CNN cuts away as Beyonce is singing “At Last.”
The Dress | 8:37 p.m. Here it is! The dress is white, with one large sash over her right shoulder. Jason Wu is the designer. “How good lookin’ is my wife?” the new president asks the crowd at the Neighborhood ball, their first of the evening.
Party Time | 8:19 p.m. One of the biggest secrets of Inauguration Day is about to be revealed. Barack and Michelle Obama are on their way to their first ball, and the world will finally see what Mrs. Obama has chosen to wear. She apparently had a few options because she didn’t make up her mind until the final hours.
The new First Couple has left the White House, so the unveiling of the dress is just moments away!