The locals loved it but Obama jig is a PR pratfall

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The Independent Online

It had all gone so perfectly to his PR team's plan, from the gentle Q&A sessions to the convivial handshakes. Then Barack Obama hit the dance-floor.

The President's spontaneous demonstration of dancing prowess certainly enlivened a visit to the Holy Name School in Mumbai on the second morning of his three-day visit to India. But, like almost everything else he does these days, it met with a mixed reaction from the folk back home.

To some, Mr Obama's performance of a "Koli" dance, which expresses the culture and identity of Maharashtrian fishing communities, proved that he retains the common touch.

It was greeted with wild applause by his delighted hosts, who are celebrating Diwali, the Hindu festival of light. One of the exotically attired children told reporters his moves were "graceful, nice, and beautiful." But to others, particularly in the right-wing US circles where the President's every move is now subject to ridicule and outrage, the spectacle was like a red rag to a bull. Critics carped about the alleged disloyalty of a US leader celebrating Diwali, and compared his cheerful demeanour to that of the Roman Emperor Nero.

In truth, we learned two things from the short display. First, that Mr Obama, like most middle-aged men who wear suits, makes up for what he lacks in poise on the dance-floor with sheer enthusiasm. Second that, in common with many long-suffering wives, his other half, Michelle, is the more elegant mover.

The Press Trust of India described Mrs Obama as "a quick learner" who "matched the Koli dance steps with the children with great élan". It was more diplomatic about the President, saying: "He took a little time to adjust himself to the steps."

A pooled report shared among White House correspondents, who use the acronym "Flotus" (First Lady of the United States) to describe Mrs Obama (the President is "Potus") was more sceptical. "When the kids beckoned, Flotus jumped up to join, Potus resisted," it read. "His wife did a remarkable job keeping up with the kids. Then Potus gave in, did some not-terribly graceful shuffling, then threw in the towel and gathered the kids around for photos. The damage was done, however. Great film."

Mr and Mrs Obama are spending three days in the world's largest democracy as part of a four-nation tour of Asia aimed at fostering trade links and strengthening diplomatic relations with key powers in the region, including Indonesia, South Korea and Japan.

On Saturday, the President unveiled $10bn (£6.18bn) in new contracts for US exports to India, which the White House claims will secure 50,000 jobs. Relatively high domestic unemployment figures are believed to have contributed to the Democratic Party's poor performance in last week's mid-term elections.

Back in the US, the diplomatic tour is being described as a "holiday" by right-wing commentators. Some have characterised it as a waste of public funds, although the White House described widespread claims that it is costing $200m a day (more than the war in Afghanistan) as "wildly inflated" and "false."

Funky President: the US leaders who dared to dance

The good ...

With his Hollywood background, Ronald Reagan had no problems with style or grace when he waltzed Margaret Thatcher around the floor at the last inaugural ball of his presidency, held at the White House in 1984.

The bad ...

Compared to the less-than-favourable reputation most fathers have for dancing at weddings, President Richard Nixon's performance at his daughter Patricia's reception in June 1971 wasn't as grim as it could have been. The President was all smiles for his daughter for their first dance. He may not have exhibited any rhythm or flair as he moved woodenly in a tight circle – but this was probably much to the relief of the bride.

... And the enthusiastic

No other president has taken diplomacy to the dance floor like George W Bush. He showed off his notorious moves on a regular basis during his last years in office. One highlight: the occasion when he threw off his suit jacket in abandon whilst dancing alongside President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia in 2008.