At Last: The First Couple

Barack and Michelle Obama shared their first dance as the nation's first couple while Beyonce serenaded them with her rendition of Etta James' "At Last" during the Neighborhood Ball in Washington.

On a day when the Obamas spent hours celebrating with millions of Americans during the inauguration, the first couple's tender moment on the dance floor of the Washington Convention Center was one of the lasting images. Barack nuzzled his wife's cheek as the two shared warm smiles with lights twinkling behind them.

With right hands clasped gingerly and the President's arm wrapped around the First Lady's back, the couple twirled around the stage -- Michelle in her flowing white, floor-length gown sparkling with silver jewels designed by Jason Wu and Barack in his a black tuxedo with a white bow tie.

"First of all, how good looking is my wife?" Obama asked the cheering crowd.

Obama thanked his supporters and said the Neighborhood Ball was a fitting venue to have their first dance as first couple.

"Of all the balls that are taking place tonight ... this ball is the one that captures best I think the spirit of this campaign," Obama said to a cheering crowd.

"This is the Neighborhood Ball, and we got the idea for the Neighborhood Ball because we are neighborhood people," he said. "I cut my teeth doing neighborhood work, and this campaign was organized neighborhood by neighborhood."

The ball -- the first of 10 the Obamas danced their way through last night -- was billed as the hottest ticket in Washington because it provided the backdrop for the couple's first dance and boasted a star-studded list of entertainers. Jay-Z,, Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys, Shakira, Sting, Faith Hill, Mary J. Blige, Stevie Wonder and Maroon 5 all performed. Tickets to the ball were offered for free or at low prices.

The Obamas also attended the Home State Ball for Illinois and Hawaii where they shared a brief dance, appearing more relaxed as the President held Michelle tighter then smiled and twirled her around as she beamed back and gently tugged at her white frock.

"This is a special ball because it represents our roots," Obama said at the Home State Ball. "Hawaii, Illinois - together you've given us so much."

Obama joked around with troops from Illinois national guard stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan, via satellite and quizzed them on their favorite hometown baseball team during the Commander in Chief Ball. Most of them said they were Cubs fans much to Obama's chagrin - he's a White Sox Fan.

"This is terrible!" Obama joked.

He also said he saluted the military and their families.

"Your courage, your grace and your patriotism inspire us all," Obama told the crowd at the ball. "To you and to all of those watching from around the world know that as president I will have no great honor or responsibility than serving as your commander in chief."

Despite the formal attire and celebrity entertainment, the balls weren't overly fancy affairs. Lines were long to get in, and the food was heavy on vegetables with dip and cheese cubes.

In a sign, perhaps, of the tough economic times, guests who paid anywhere from $75 for a ticket to thousands more for a package deal had to buy their own drinks served in small plastic cups. Beer went for $6, cocktails for $9 and champagne for $12.

People were standing in line outside Union Station to get into the Eastern States Ball an hour and a half after it started. Because of very limited seating at the Western Ball, a number of attendees in long gowns and fancy dress plopped cross-legged on the floor.

"This is what happens in a down economy. No chairs, no highboys — it's the floor and plastic cups," commented ballgoer Brig Lawson, 38, of Las Vegas.

Singer Sheryl Crow was greeted by a cheering crowd later for her appropriate hit, "A Change Would Do You Good." When hip-hop star Wyclef Jean asked the men at the Mid-Atlantic Ball to pull off their tuxedo jackets and swing them in the air to show their support for Barack Obama, thousands did.

At the Youth Ball, Kid Rock belted out songs as well-dressed 20-somethings mingled about. One of them walked up to a bartender, gave him a high five and said, "Barack Obama is president!"

The Obamas, following Kid Rock and Kanye West, got the real rock-star reception and launched into something of an awkward dance, laughing as they swayed. When they were done, the president grabbed a mic and said, "That's what's called old school."

At the Midwestern Ball, he joked that it was time to "dance with the one who brung me, who does everything that I do except backwards and in heels."

And though the mood was celebratory, the reality that the country remains at war hung over the festivities at the Commander in Chief ball and a separate Heroes Red White & Blue Ball.

"Please know that you are in our thoughts and prayers today, every day, forever," Obama told troops at the Commander in Chief ball. "Tonight, we celebrate. Tomorrow, the work begins. ... Together, I am confident we will write the next great chapter in America's story."

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