Skip Tradition: Parties Off the Beaten Path

Inaugural Balls Are Dandy; These Are Fun

Posted January 16, 2009 at 4:22pm

While the new president and first lady are mingling tonight at the 10 official inaugural balls, some Washingtonians planned to celebrate over the weekend in unusual ways. From pajama parties to burlesque shows, here’s a rundown of a few balls that were off the beaten path.

At the Ronald Reagan Building, revelers planned to toast Barack Obama’s inauguration by attending a giant slumber party. Actress and author Carrie Fisher was slated to host an “Obama Pajama Party,” benefitting the Pajama Program, to which guests were asked to don a ball gown or a nightgown.

“I know I’m going to wear a ball gown, but with fuzzy bunny slippers,” D.C. Chapter President Judy Cooper said before the event.

Proceeds from the gala — which offered large, comfortable couches and late-night snacks like pizza, sliders and chocolate fondue — are going to the Pajama Program, a New York-based charity that provides books and pajamas for needy children.

“The pajamas fall by the wayside a lot of the times, so we stock [children] with nice, warm, nurturing pajamas and books,” Cooper said.

But that’s not the only unusual inaugural party. The Disability Power and Pride Ball, scheduled for Sunday night at the National Press Club, was the first of its kind and is being called a “political coming out” for people with disabilities by the ball’s planners. The celebration was set to include sign language translators and wheelchair accessibility.

“What we don’t want is for people to be patronizing and say, ‘Let’s include some people with disabilities at our party.’ We want to have our own party and reach out to everybody else,” says former Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Calif.), chairman of the Ball Planning Committee and author of the Americans with Disabilities Act. “We want to be proud of what we are.”

The sold-out ball, which was expected to be attended by 700 people, advertised a buffet, cocktails and a performance by Bill Shannon, also known as “the CrutchMaster.” Shannon, who has a bilateral hip deformity, is a choreographer with the Cirque Du Soleil. He planned to perform a show in which he would swing around and dance on his crutches, proving that a bad hip can’t keep a man down.

The ball was also an occasion to honor disabled veterans, Coelho said.

“We want them to see how proud we are of them and welcome them to our community. To say, ‘Don’t be embarrassed in anyway by your disability,’” he said in an interview before the ball. “A lot of times these young men and women come back and there is this sympathy as opposed to enabling them to be part of society totally. We want them to realize that we are very much proud of who they are, what they are and what they can do in the future.”

And then there were party options on the fringe. Visitors to the Palace of Wonders on H Street Northeast could check out everything from burlesque dancers to snake charmers during the inaugural festivities. The “Inauguration Feast of Flesh Fest” was advertised as a “two-day local dame and daredevil blowout” on the bar’s Web site. The festival was set to include belly dancers, sword swallowers, snake charmers and other sideshows. All of the performers are locally based, and the shows were set to run Monday from noon until 4 a.m. and continue at the same times today.

“For the tourists that don’t normally see people swallowing swords, shooting fire balls and doing classic showgirl shimmies, this is their chance,” manager Prissy Pistol said.

And finally, Obama isn’t the only president in town tonight. Asylum in Adams Morgan is hosting an inaugural costume ball tonight and has asked customers to dress up as their favorite presidents and first ladies. The bar is expecting some 150 people to show up to celebrate the big day.

“My favorite costume that I’ve heard of thus far is Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky,” owner John Andrade wrote in an e-mail. “Not quite a First Lady but definitely in the spirit.”