Michelle: it's my party and I'll make you dance if I want to...
The First Lady is celebrating her 50th birthday this week. Liz Kearney isn't impressed by her plans
Michelle Obama's 50th birthday celebrations have got off to an inauspicious start. The First Lady is planning a bash in the White House on Saturday -- and the invites have succeeded in making one of the most eagerly anticipated Washington parties sound about as exciting as bingo night at the old-folks home.
Guests at the event, snappily billed 'Snacks and Sips and Dancing and Dessert', have been instructed to eat before they come, wear comfortable shoes, and practise their dance moves, which makes Michelle's 50th sound less like a party and more like a joyless exercise in starvation, dowdiness and compulsory renditions of the Macarena.
As America's usually irreproachable First Lady, Michelle has set a lot of trends in her time: the desire to have amazingly toned arms, the need to own a huge array of J Crew cardigans teamed with oversized belts, and the ability to graciously give up your own career in deference to your husband's when the country comes calling.
So will her 50th birthday start an alarming trend in food-free, dance-filled parties across the water here?
"I don't think so," says party planner Caroline Gardiner of www.partypros.ie. "In my seven years of organising events, I've never come across a direction to eat before you come, and I don't think it will start now.
"If I saw it on an invite, I'd think the host was a cheapskate. I do encourage people to let their guests know what kind of food is being served and what the event is going to be, but there is a much better way to let people know that you're only serving snacks; you can simply say, finger food served at 10pm.
"Or if you're just doing canapés, you could write something like 'canape and cocktail' party. But to spell it out that you're not getting fed -- I don't think that's very polite."
"The actual concept of the event itself is fine," says event organiser Ruth Roslyn of www.partyplanners.ie. "I just think Michelle worded the invite wrong and managed to make it sound cheap when I'm sure that's the opposite of what it's going to be."
Telling people to wear comfortable shoes is also something of a no-no, the party planners agree. "If I want to go to the event and wear uncomfortable shoes, I can do it if I want, so she might have been better suggesting guests could bring their dancing shoes," says Ruth.
"I think that's fine if there's a specific reason for it, like say if you were having a festival-type party and the invite said something like, wellies welcome, so you're letting people know that the party is outside," adds Caroline. "But otherwise, you can't tell people what to wear."
The problem with Michelle's series of diktats is that such imperious party planning and bossiness is the very opposite of all that makes a good party: spontaneity, a surplus of everything (food, booze and fun) and a relaxed, let-your-hair- down atmosphere that encourages everyone to enjoy themselves.
The least fun I ever had on a night out was a 30th birthday bash where we were all instructed to play party games. No sooner had everyone begun to relax and have a good time than the DJ would intervene with some detailed instruction about the next phase of the 'game'.
By the time the clock struck midnight, most guests were in bed, worn out with trying to follow the complicated rules of a game they didn't understand and didn't want to play in the first place.
The same is true of dancing. If you love getting down on the dancefloor after a few drinks, then knock yourself out.
If, on the other hand, you have two left feet (and let's face it, that applies to most Irish people) being consistently exhorted to do The Time Warp again when all you want to do is hide in a dark corner and skull -- sorry, I meant sip -- your pint, is a surefire way to ensure you leave scowling.
"I think that an event should reflect your personality and your culture," says Ruth Roslyn.
"Michelle is known to have a casual personality and she obviously likes dancing, so the party sounds apt. She's probably been to one too many formal Washington events and wanted to do something different. She just should have reconsidered the invites."
High-heels? No, put your runners on
Confused by Michelle Obama's birthday invite? We've parsed it for you, so that if you get one in the post this week, you'll know exactly what to do.
Eat before you come: This translates to: I'm throwing a party but I couldn't be bothered doing any preparation, as I'd like to spend the whole day getting my nails re-tipped and my hair blow-dried instead of actually doing any work.
Wear comfortable shoes: You thought you were being invited to a glamorous White House bash, and you've spent a fortune on your designer cocktail dress and six-inch strappy sandals. Well, you've wasted your cash -- you are not here to have a good time, you are here to do some light exercise and you should be wearing trainers. After all, Michelle's most successful Washington campaign so far has been her anti-obesity drive, Let's Move. And her party is obviously the latest opportunity for her to hammer home her get fit message.
It's a snack and sip party: If you're lucky, you will be offered the odd cheesy Wotsit by a passing waiter and you may take slow, dainty sips from your glass of Champagne. Anyone found downing Tequila slammers at the bar is likely to be rapidly ejected.