WASHINGTON – Over and over, President Bush and the first lady danced to a medley that included "I Could Have Danced All Night."
Could have, but didn't.
Bush shuttled through his 10-ball dance card at warp speed Thursday night and clocked in back at the White House by 10:03 p.m., nearly an hour and a half ahead of schedule. Setting the tone for the evening, one White House aide flashed an index finger and proclaimed, "One down" as the presidential entourage left Ball No. 1.
The Bushes skipped dancing altogether at their first stop, and twirled all of 1 minute, 6 seconds at Stop 2. By Stop 5, they had it down to 52 seconds. Cumulative dance total for the night: 8 minutes, 54 seconds.
As Bush was tucking himself in for the night, the Creative Coalition (search), operating on Hollywood time, was just cranking up for one of the many unofficial parties around town.
Actors Joe Pantoliano (search) and Jonathan Lipnicki, the kid who stole scenes from Tom Cruise in "Jerry Maguire," were among those who turned out for the sold-out event. Singer Macy Gray (search) was performing.
"We're celebrating everybody's win — Democrats and Republicans," said Pantoliano, co-president of the coalition, a nonpartisan advocacy group for actors, writers and other members of the entertainment industry.
Lipnicki, 14, voted for a restaurant with good guacamole over Washington's weightier sites when asked the favorite part of his visit to the city. "I liked the Rosa Mexicana," he said.
Scratched from the coalition lineup: miffed actor Dennis Hopper (search), who had planned to co-chair the gala but decided to boycott Washington altogether after being mysteriously scrapped from participating in an official inaugural event.
Actor Hill Harper, surveying the sparsely populated dance floor around 10:45 p.m., offered none-too-hopefully, "Maybe we'll see some table dancing, maybe some stripping, maybe somebody will show some leg."
As Bush prepared for his first turn on the inaugural dance floor, he confessed, "It may be the first time in four years."
Laura Bush took her twirls in a silver-and-blue V-neck gown by Oscar de la Renta. Presidential twin daughters Jenna and Barbara hovered in the background only briefly in Badgley Mischkas.
Bush wasn't the only inaugural reveler hightailing it home early. Dance-goers were pouring out of many of the balls by 10 p.m.
Around town, 50,000 people had gussied up for official balls draped in red-white-and-blue names like Freedom, Liberty, Democracy, Independence, Stars and Stripes.
Some revelers took the patriotic theme to extremes: One Betsy Ross-esque gown featured a glittering blue bodice with white stars and a poufy lower half swathed in wide stripes of red and white. A sparkling flag handbag completed the gaudy display.
Another fashion don't: comedian Ben Stein, emceeing the Democracy Ball in black tux and green sneakers.
At the Veterans Ball, none other than "Apprentice" villain Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth (search) held court in a self-described "beautiful, amazing gown."
"I'm wearing my political hat as opposed to my celebrity hat," explained Manigault-Stallworth, a diehard Democrat who's now managing partner for a political consulting firm.
Pantoliano's take on the inaugural ball scene: "From what I understand, they're mostly about checking your coat and waiting to get it back."
Still, the enthusiasm of some inaugural revelers was not to be denied. Bob Murphy, a New Orleans resident who attended the Freedom Ball, pronounced, "There are a lot of happy people here tonight."
Other less-upbeat observations from the Freedom Ball: warm champagne and $5 beer. At the Patriots Ball, one disgruntled reveler complained, "There's no beef. There's no shrimp. This is the worst ball I've ever been to."
Pantoliano pledged that his celebrity-powered party wouldn't get the same rap.
"We're not charging for every potato chip and pretzel," he said. "And everyone gets a gift bag."