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Balls Planned to Celebrate New US President

The inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama is expected to bring millions of people to Washington, D.C. on January 20 to see the new president take the oath of office and to party. But this year one inaugural ball will salute the new president with a global audience.

For 200 years U.S. presidents have celebrated on their first night in office. Presidents spend the evening being entertained by performers and dancing in front of thousands of guests.

Letitia Baldrige, who served as Social Secretary for first lady Jackie Kennedy, has been attending inaugural balls since the 1940s.

"Well of course the whole word 'ball', means party, celebration, it is a festive and exciting word," said Baldrige. "It makes everybody feel good and say, 'Oh, I want to see pictures of that.' It is a happy thing."

This year there will be 10 official balls to celebrate the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. But there will also be other balls and celebrations held throughout the city, including the Africa and International Friends Inaugural Ball. Event chairman Walter Fauntroy says his ball at the Gaylord National Convention Center will bring people from all over the world together to celebrate.

"The world wants to be here to say, 'You are not the only ones happy here in the United States, but we are.' Let us do it together as a global family," said Fauntroy.

He says guests at the ball will see a taped address from former South African President Nelson Mandela, before being entertained by performers from around the world.

"They are going to send a festival of cultures. We are going to have for example, from America, the O'Jays at the ball, singing 'People all over the world, join hands, join the love train," said Fauntroy.

Amie Gorrell, Public Relations Director at the Gaylord Convention Center says the chef at the center is planning the menu for more than 12,000 guests.

"He has already ordered 2,000 pounds of beef tenderloin," said Gorrell. "So, literally a ton of beef is on order, coming in to help feed all these guests who are going to be joining us on January 20."

While the hotel staff prepares for the unprecedented number of international guests, Gorrell says event organizers have not heard if the new president will choose to attend this ball.

But no matter which inaugural balls Mr. Obama attends, Letitia Baldrige says all the events are an exciting way to celebrate a new presidency.

"They are to get people's attention and to get press, and nice press. Because when you are having a ball you are not fighting a political struggle on the middle of the dance floor," said Baldrige. "Well, hopefully you are not."

Even though the inaugural balls are a chance for new presidents to have fun and showcase their moves on their first night in office, Baldrige says the first lady's dress choice often steals the show.