Ah yes, among the more potentially awkward or sweet of presidential traditions: the first dance.
President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrived on the stage at the Liberty Ball well after 9 p.m., where the newly-inaugurated commander-in-chief gave an off-script speech thanking supporters, stating he had been underestimated and repeating his campaign slogan, to “make America great again.”
The first lady wore a strapless, column white Hervé Pierre dress, with a white ruffle cascading down the front.
Past presidents have had as many as 10 official balls. Trump’s inauguration features only three; after 11 p.m. Trump mentioned he had two more parties to attend. While these official events typically feature entertainers that attract some attention, usually the most-watched moment is the debut of the first couple for their first dance — with an extra emphasis on the first lady’s dress.
Traditionally, the dress worn during the inaugural ball first dance is donated to the first ladies’ exhibition at the National Museum of American History.
On Saturday, the Trumps danced to a jazz trio’s rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” Well, they swayed slightly side-to-side, their short movements often punctuated by Trump flashing a thumbs up, pumping his fist in the air and pointing to people in the crowd.
He also spoke to Melania Trump, and at one point, she pressed her cheek against his.
Then came Vice President Pence and his wife, Karen. Once those two couples danced side-by-side, it was clear they were moving to two completely different rhythms. The Pences two-stepped in big, sweeping motions, and next to them, the Trumps appeared more stiff.
The Trump and Pence children also came on stage. By the end of the song, nine couples in all were dancing above a crowd of gawking people. Then they were off to the Freedom Ball where they repeated the same song and dance.
These first dances can go either way in terms of optics and tone. Sometimes they give off a weird, prom-like vibe. President George W. Bush jokingly appeared to check his watch during his 2001 inaugural ball. President Obama’s first dance became quite the viral moment, one that underscored the historic nature of his presidency; megastar Beyoncé crooned the romantic Etta James classic “At Last,” while watching the first black president and first lady dance in 2009.
Before Trump performing this presidential ritual on Saturday, he pulled out a wireless microphone at the Liberty Ball, pointed to the military band that had played them on, and declared, “that is what I call great talent.”
Trump launched into a off-script speech, thanking supporters and promising that over the next few weeks “you’re going to be so happy” with the work his administration does. He also described the “incredible” day he had just had, one that included “an incredible scene, like from a movie set, so beautiful,” and once again reminded the world that he had been underestimated.
“We began this journey and they said we, we and me, we didn’t have a chance,” Trump told the crowd in the Washington Convention Center. “But we knew we were going to win and we won. And today we had a great day. People that weren’t so nice to me were saying that we did a really good job today. They hated to do it but they did it, and I respect that.”
He also offered his gratitude to “my number one supporter, Melania. What she puts up with — thank you, honey. Now we really did something that’s so special and this evening is so special.”
Sinatra himself performed at the inaugurations of Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
Robin Givhan contributed to this post.