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Posted at 05:00 AM ET, 06/04/2012

Arab glamour at Washington’s Opera Ball: UAE hosts black-tie party with henna tattoos and shishas

Shamim Jawad receives a tattoo from a henna artist at the Washington National Opera Ball Saturday at the UAE embassy. (Photo by Margot Schulman )
One sign of a good party: socialites getting tattoos.

Okay, okay — they were temporary tattoos applied by a henna artist (the ink designs last about a week), but still pretty daring for the grande dames of Washington. Billionaire Jackie Mars and many of the other VIPs at Saturday’s Washington National Opera Ball took the plunge, giving the night a dash of exotic glamour.

Which is really the point of the annual ball: It’s one of the last black-tie, break-out-the-good-jewels affairs left in D.C. designed to dazzle the senses — and donors. When the financial struggling opera company merged with the Kennedy Center last year, there were fears that bean counters would chop the extravagant party. But it survived, at least for now, and raised $1.1 million for the WNO.

UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, ball chairman Adrienne Arsht, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (Photo by Daniel Schwartz)
“There will always be an opera ball,” ball chair Adrienne Arsht told us. “The legend, the history, the beauty, the excitement — that’s not going to change.”

So 500 guests, many who dined at embassies around town earlier that night, arrived at the sleek embassy of the United Arab Emirates — the first Arab country ever to host the ball — for dancing, drinks and dessert.

“We wanted to support something in Washington that we are supporting back home,” said UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba. “We’re putting a tremendous amount of emphasis on building the UAE to be a cultural gateway in the Middle East. There aren’t really world-class museums, world-class art collections. We don’t have that in our part of the world yet — so the UAE is trying to be that place.”

The party showcased the modern country with a nod to the past: The embassy’s facade was lit with traditional mosaic designs; the halls were filled with lanterns, folk dancers, Middle Eastern music and students in native dress; the back patio looked like a hip outdoor club. Two raffle winners scored trips to Dubai and Abu Dhabi; everyone else ate decadent Arab and Western desserts including (not a big hit) camel-milk chocolate.

Spotted in the crowd: Kennedy Center chairman David Rubenstein, Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Rep. Norm Dicks, White House social secretary Jeremy Bernard, former D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty, Robert Allbritton, Catherine Reynolds, Calvin Cafritz and other well-heeled opera donors.

Guests smoke the traditional shisha at the Washington National Opera Ball Saturday. (Photo by Daniel Schwartz)
Party planners saved a few surprises for departing guests: a candy buffet with bags and scoops, gift bags with pearls from the UAE, and tents erected on the plaza with rugs, pillows, Arab food and the traditional shisha — water pipes for smoking fruit-flavored tobacco. Possibly the best ever way to kill time while waiting for the valet to find your car.

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By  |  05:00 AM ET, 06/04/2012

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