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Dashing and Dancing

Little said he missed and adored the late President Ronald Reagan and "I wish he was here tonight, but as a matter of fact he is," and he proceeded to impersonate Reagan, saying, "You know, somebody asked me, 'Do you think the war on poverty is over?' I said, 'Yes, the poor lost.' " The crowd went wild.

While waiting for President Bush to arrive, the Doug Sorensen Orchestra played "Honky Tonk Women" and an extremely Caucasian version of "I Got You (I Feel Good)." During "Boot Scootin' Boogie," pockets of dancing broke out. During "Love Is in the Air," a dozen women did the electric slide. At one point, the U.S. Air Force Band took the stage and Little introduced the governors of American Samoa, Georgia and Puerto Rico.

Basking in the glow of his inauguration, President Bush and Laura Bush waltz at the Commander-in-Chief Ball at the National Building Museum. (Rich Lipski - The Washington Post)

Helen Jernigan from Hernando, Miss., an alderwoman and vice chair of the DeSoto County Republican Party, said, "There are so many people it's hard to get food and drink and it's hard to get to the dance floor, but you have a blast."

Around 7:45 p.m., the president, his wife, and their twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna, arrived and the band played "Hail to the Chief."

The crowd went crazy and wild.

"Thank you all for coming," Bush said. "I hope you enjoy the festivities as much as I'm enjoying them. I love my wife, Laura . . ."

Much more wild and crazy cheering.

". . . I'm looking forward to dancing with her, for maybe the first time in four years. I'm really proud of Barbara and Jenna, they're great women. Vice President Cheney will be here shortly. He's a great vice president."

After introducing a few dignitaries, Bush said: "We're having the time of our life. It's a fantastic moment for our country as we celebrate democracy. As we celebrate democracy at home, we want others to celebrate democracy abroad."

To the Air Force Band's rendition of "I Could Have Danced All Night," they danced about a minute.

Surprise Guests

Like last year's mad dash -- when the Bushes wound up at the White House two hours earlier than expected -- the president blitzed through so fast last night that he caught partyers at some venues unaware. When the master of ceremonies at the Freedom Ball at Union Station announced to the crowd just after 8 p.m., "Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce the president of the United States," no one was quite ready.

But there was Bush with the first lady. The first couple waved. The crowd cheered. Bush waved some more. The crowd cheered some more.

Bush tried to speak to the cheering throng, but his words were muffled by technical difficulties.

"We can't hear him," people whispered. He said something about Alabama and Kansas. He must have acknowledged Michigan. He said something about Louisiana, the neighbor of Texas.

He thanked the finance chairman of the inauguration. He said he appreciated the members of the diplomatic corps. Bush told the gathering: "I meant what I said in my speech. . . . Everybody should be free, and when they are, the world will be a more peaceful place."

Bush waved. His followers cheered. "Now," the president said, "if you allow me, I'd like to ask the first lady for an inaugural dance."

And exactly five minutes after they appeared, at 8:11, according to the big train clock in Union Station, the first couple slipped behind an American flag and were gone.

Some folks left early, others stayed. Chris Denham, 40, an engineer from Huntsville, Ala., said, "We're waiting to see some really big movie stars. When you find them, bring them over here. We just saw Randy Owens -- you know, the lead singer of the band Alabama. He's in here somewhere. We spoke to him. He told us to have a good time."

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