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President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle may not be much for stuffy state dinners — they’ve hosted only six — but when they throw one, they know how to turn it into a party.
With Bill and Hillary Clinton, the ultimate symbol of prestige bestowed upon close Hollywood supporters was a sleep-over in the Lincoln bedroom. Now, it’s dancing at the White House well past midnight.
Following Tuesday’s dinner for 350 in a tent on the South Lawn, the fun became so relaxed and uninhibited that the guest of honor, French President Francois Hollande, told one guest that he didn’t expect his first state visit to include a trip to the dance floor. “He said ‘I was dancing with Michelle, then Barack. … I thought we came for serious meetings, but I ended up in a fantastic club,’ ” said the attendee.
Apparently, performer Mary J. Blige got everyone on their feet as she sang her version of U2’s “One” and the French chief executive did, in fact, dance with both the first lady and the president. As another of the guests described it, “It was all gracious, familial and funny.”
All of this followed a week of hand-wringing on the part of the Capitol’s protocol wonks, who were horrified that the White House had to tear up its ornately printed invitations at the last minute after Hollande parted ways with his companion of seven years following an admission that the 59-year-old is involved with a beautiful young French actress. (He was slipping out of the official residence by motor scooter for nighttime liaisons, according to the Parisian press, which has made a meal of “l’affaire Hollande.”)
With the French president attending stag, would there be any dancing at all, inquiring social minds wanted to know?
The New York Times’ White House Memo posed the following questions this week: Who should be placed next to the president in the seat Ms. Trierweiler would have occupied? Would any of the entertainment be inappropriate? Should there really be dancing if the romantically complicated guest of honor has no one to dance with?
“That may be a bit of a protocol debacle there,” Walter Scheib, the White House chef to presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, told the NYT in advance of the dinner. “It’ll be curious to see if he asks the first lady for a dance. That would be on the front of all the tabloids — Frenchman sweeps first lady off feet!”
The White House strategy was to seat Hollande between the first lady and the president. There were rumors that there would be no dancing. But those didn’t hold.
The Obamas may have hosted just half a dozen state dinners as opposed to Ronald Reagan‘s 35 or Bill and Hillary’s 23, but they love to dance and the president relishes the lead spot in a conga line.
Attendees still are talking about the post-inaugural party in January 2013 that went on until 3 a.m. and literally had some guests dancing on the East Room tables, as a DJ played Love Train and We Are Family. At one point during Obama’s 2013 inaugural bash, Obama and Jennifer Hudson started dancing “one-on-one,” a partygoer told THR. “People formed a circle around them and started cheering.” While the party was going on, some attendees wandered the hallways, snapping photos of themselves in the library, the pantry and the White House movie theater. “People had free rein of the first and second floors of the East Wing,” said one attendee. From the outside, the East Room windows glowed purple from the dance lights.
Hollande is in Silicon Valley today. Don’t look for any dancing there.
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