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Obamas dance the night away at 10 balls

WASHINGTON, Jan 21 – President Barack Obama showed off some nifty moves as he and his first lady got into the groove for a night of celebrations following his inauguration as the nation’s first black president.

"First of all, how good looking is my wife?" Obama cooed to wild applause from the crowd gathered for the very first ball which began a long night of 10 special dances ushering in the Obama era.

Clearly enjoying their moment, the couple kicked off their first dance of the night to Beyonce singing "At Last," the signature song of blues singer Etta James, at what was dubbed "the neighbourhood ball."

Billed as the ball for ordinary Americans, community activists and grass-roots organizers had come from far and wide to take part in history.

"You can tell that’s a black president, by the way he was moving," joked actor Jamie Foxx as the couple finished after twirling and waltzing, while Beyonce serenaded them from one side of the stage.

First Lady Michelle Obama also showed off her white, one-shouldered flowing gown, studded with applique embroidery and accessorized with thin diamond bracelets, a huge ring and dangling earrings, with peep-toe white shoes.

The dress was designed by young Taiwanese-born designer Jason Wu, who has been in the fashion business for just three years.

"We got the idea of the neighbourhood ball, because we are neighbourhood people. And I cut my teeth doing neighbourhood work," Obama, looking dapper in a black tuxedo and white bow tie, told the crowd.

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"If you think about the word, neighbourhood starts with neighbour because it indicates a sense that Americans are bound together by what we have in common, much more than what drives us apart."

Some 2,000 people gathered in the ballroom were treated to a rare line-up of stars, including, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige and Maroon 5.

Then Stevie Wonder flanked by the other singers had the new president and first lady dancing to "Signed, Sealed, Delivered."

"She’s a gorgeous first lady," gushed Kiana Moore, 24, from New Jersey, who was attracting admiring glances for her floor-length pleated gown splattered with bursts of orange, yellow and purple.

She and girlfriends Michelle Cody, 25, and Terese Villia, 25, had only bought their outfits in a shopping spree just hours before the ball.

Seeing the Obamas up close mitigated their disappointment at not getting onto the National Mall earlier in the day, and having to phone their mothers in California and Hawaii to listen to the swearing-in.

At the commander-in-chief ball, the first couple swapped partners to dance with Sergeant Margaret Herrara and Sergeant Elidio Guillen.

Both admitted they had been practicing the box-step after discovering they were to dance with the first couple.

"But almost as soon as we got going then the music seemed to be over," Herrara told CNN.

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Obama also shared some banter with six servicemen and women based in Kabul, who beamed into the ball via live video link. All were from Obama’s hometown of Chicago, but much to his chagrin most supported the Cubs baseball team instead of his favoured Chicago White Sox.

Next up was the Youth Ball which had already been warmed-up by Grammy award-winning rapper Kanye West, where Obama showed the 18- to 35-year-old audience what he called some "old school" moves.

"Anytime a president can get a bigger ovation than Kanye West it’s got to say something," said Sam Berger, 26, a student at Yale law school.

Obama was moving beyond his campaign "to tap into this generation’s potential. Our generation has been waiting for someone to ask us to do something. We haven’t really been called upon in the past to this extent."

Other official balls celebrated the home states of the Obamas as well as Vice President Joe Biden.

And there were scores of unofficial balls competing for attention, turning the chilly night streets into a sea of stretch limousines.

Democratic party delegate Joyce Fitzpatrick, 71, just wanted a glimpse of the Obamas at the neighbourhood ball, then she planned to high-tail it to The Purple Ball to catch crooners El Divo.

"The hardest task he is going to face is bringing everyone around to believing that we can all work together," she said.

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