Many Latin American girls observe the Quinceanera tradition as a way to honor their transition from a girl to a young lady. It’s similar to the sweet sixteen traditions that Americans follow. However, the quince has religious origins which is why it traditionally begins with a ceremonial Mass.
One of the most important elements of a Quinceanera is the Corte de Honor. Traditionally made up of 14 girls—damas—and 14 boys—chambelanes—these young people are usually the Quinceanera’s friends or family and will perform a waltz during the celebration. More modern celebrations don’t require as many damas and chambelanes, so there can be as few as 7 boys and 7 girls. Some celebrants choose to have a male-only Corte de Honor. If so, there are usually 7 boys or young men.
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to choosing your court so don’t feel pressured. You might find that selecting your chambelanes will be a lot harder because boys aren’t generally as excited about these things as girls. Most celebrants choose cousins and family friends to be their chambelanes if they can’t fill all the places with friends.
Traditionally, the entire court, along with the Quinceanera, will dance throughout the celebration, sometimes in between courses of the meal. There is also a baile de sorpresa or Surprise Dance that the court prepares for the Quinceanera. But in this modern era, often the traditional dances are replaced with videos, professional performances, or other types of celebration. Sometimes the traditional waltz is either replaced with, or complemented by, a bachata performed by the celebrant and two male partners.
The number of damas is totally up to the Quinceanera depending on how many girlfriends she has.
Being a dama or a chambelan is a supporting role in a Quinceanera, but it’s also an essential aspect of the ceremony because it represents the friendship shared with the celebrant as she enters womanhood.
Roles of the damas and chambelanes:
- Attend all the dance rehearsals for the Quinceañera.
- Damas should wear a ball gown or fancy party dress—chambelanes wear a tuxedo or other dressy attire.
- Attend the Mass, which is usually held before the reception.
- Prepare a surprise performance for the celebrant.
- If there’s a video featuring the celebrant’s friends, the court will usually have a role in the production.
- If the court is to be part of the photo shoots at the ceremony and reception, they’ll have to stick close to the celebrant most of the time.
If the court is to be part of the photo shoots at the ceremony and reception, they’ll have to stick close to the celebrant most of the time.
As a way to show gratitude for their help and participation, here are some obligations of the Quinceañera when it comes to her court:
- Provide the venue for rehearsals.
- Provide appropriate refreshments—snacks or even a meal—for each rehearsal or when gathered to plan for the celebration.
- Keep them involved with the planning especially when it comes to their dresses and tuxedos.
USEFUL TIP: Don’t insist on a uniform dress code. Let the damas select the neckline they want, and maybe let the guys choose between tuxedos or a more relaxed yet elegant feel like dress pants with formal vests and ties.
- As much as possible, cover the expenses for the dresses and tuxedos. Being asked to participate in such a big celebration may make them feel they’ll be responsible for a big budget, too.
If some members of the court are the celebrant’s friends, especially if they’re not of Latin origin, it would be good to get to know their parents beforehand. Write a short handwritten note explaining that they’ve been chosen to be a part of the Quinceanera. This is a courteous gesture that everyone’s parents will definitely appreciate.
During a girl’s teenage years, she experiences dramatic changes with regard to her emotions and appearance. A quinceanera is a great time to celebrate all that she’s going through by reminding her how much she’s loved by family and friends.
Choosing your damas and chambelanes can be tough, though. Here are some pointers to help your decision-making go a little more smoothly:
- Choose your closest friends whose parents are friendly with—or at least familiar with—your parents so it won’t be difficult to ask their permission when it comes to coordinating schedules.
- Include some members of your family—even those younger than 15 can participate. (The rule in which women below 15 are not allowed to dance in public no longer applies.)
- If you find it hard to recruit 14 pairs, then cut it down to 7 pairs.
- Let them know ahead of time that you’ll be selecting them to be a part of your court so that they can also let you know if their schedule allows them to attend the rehearsals.
- It’s most gracious to distribute formal invitations asking them to take part. Since they know that Quinceaneras are a big deal, they would expect some sort of formality.
- If they’ll be buying their own dresses, discuss the matter with them privately before inviting, but again, it would be best if these costs are covered by the Quinceanera’s family.
- Remember that they can say no from the beginning, and this should be honored. Knowing that you have them on board from the start helps a lot when it comes to rehearsals and planning.
- Some celebrants choose a dama de honor who will serve as her right-hand gal. This is helpful if it’s a big court so when it comes to making plans, she can be in charge of discussing certain things with everyone. else
Planning a Quinceanera is a great bonding experience between the celebrant and her mother as well as her closest friends.
Celebrating your Quinceanera is important, but it is equally important to choose the people with whom you get along. Their role in the celebration is symbolic and in order to uphold the values of this age-old tradition, you truly want to celebrate with the people in your life who matter the most.