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Dashing and Dancing

"I just wish they were inaugural balls for John Kerry, but then they wouldn't have cost $40 million," said Douglas Kelley, 75, from Ann Arbor, Mich., who was joined by his son Peter, 47, and his grandson Miles, 12, at the Counter-Inaugural Gala hosted by Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal lobbying organization founded by Eleanor Roosevelt. Tickets started at $50 for chicken wings and cheese, cash bar and a band in the Washington Court Hotel near Capitol Hill. "It's ludicrous to have that expensive a celebration."

Kelley, a full-time volunteer for Kerry, said he was feeling "angry and determined to do something about it." He had replaced his disappointment over the defeat by taking up a new cause, expressed on the sweat shirts he and his son were wearing: "Don't Let Bush Ruin Social Security."

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)

Standing Room Only

The big gripe at the Independence Ball, as elsewhere, was the lack of chairs. With more than 6,000 expected to attend -- the ball included Republicans from such heavily blue locales as the District, Maryland, Massachusetts and Rhode Island -- there were few places to sit in the vast ballroom of the Convention Center.

Vice President and Lynne Cheney greeted the crowd just before 8 p.m. with a trumpet flourish and stayed about four minutes. "We want to welcome you to Washington and welcome you to the second term of George Bush," said the vice president. The Cheneys then danced, then quickly disappeared.

Among the happiest attendees was Betty Riordan of Winchester, who learned the day after Thanksgiving she had cancer, and began undergoing chemotherapy just after Christmas. Almost exhausted by mid-evening, Riordan was grateful to snag one of the few available chairs.

"I think it's wonderful to be here," she said. "We are totally behind Bush, and it's a thrill to see the person you are supporting win."

Riordan was the guest of her friend and neighbor Bonnie Paulsen, who surprised her by buying tickets to the inaugural ball. "I knew she was a true Republican and loved Bush, and that it would motivate her. It's kept her spirits up. She's a real trouper."

President and Mrs. Bush arrived at 8:46 p.m., and spent seven minutes in front of the excited crowd. The president said, "What a joyous occasion, celebrating me. . . . At the end of the next four years, we want to be able to say we left a better world and a better country for our children and grandchildren."

The Blue States Ball

By now, the presidential and vice presidential couples had established recurring motifs. Dip in, say a few encouraging words, dance to the same tune each time, depart.

As parties go, the Stars and Stripes Ball -- New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania -- was a dull one. People stood in clumps, looking sort of bored and really glum. Maybe it was because all three states went blue in November. Or maybe it was the Muzak.

Cristina Fontanelli approached with a worried look. She was to sing the national anthem, she said, but she was concerned that her name wasn't in the program. She whipped out a stack of glossy postcards plastered with her face, name and booking information.

Soldiers stood around, dressed up in their military best. One had lost a leg in Iraq just two months ago, but said he'd rather not talk about it on this night. Then Cheney swept in. "Anyone here from New York?" The crowd roared. "New Jersey?" "Pennsylvania?"

"I guess I shouldn't have brought that up," he said, referring to the fact that Kerry won in all three states. He thanked the troops, talked a lot about exercising freedom, and mentioned that it was going to be an early night.

He danced with his "bride of 40 years," as folks in the audience held cell phones aloft, taking it all in.

The Bushes showed up 45 minutes ahead of schedule. Bush said, "I love our first lady, so does America. And I'm so proud of Dick Cheney, he gives great advice, he's a great friend. If you don't mind, I'd like to ask the first lady for a dance." The room then lit up with digital cameras. Bush and his wife danced once again to "I Could Have Danced All Night."

But they didn't dance all night. They headed home after the Commander-in-Chief Ball. Early.

The next day was a work day.

Staff writers DeNeen L. Brown, Peter Carlson, Sean Daly, Lynne Duke, Paul Farhi, Jennifer Frey, Ann Gerhart, Robin Givhan, Darragh Johnson, Mark Leibovich, David Montgomery, Roxanne Roberts, Hanna Rosin, Jose Antonio Vargas, Teresa Wiltz and pool reporter Carl M. Cannon of the National Journal contributed to this report.

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