This Is What It’s Like to Be a Professional Chambelán

Art by Alan López for Remezcla

Across Latin America and the United States, turning 15 is a milestone celebrated with a quinceañera. Marking the transition between girlhood and young adulthood, these coming-of-age parties are a stressful affair, with the birthday girl usually planning every aspect – from decor to party favors – of the wedding-like event. But nothing is as taxing for a quinceañera as the waltz/baile sorpresa, when a court – made up of several couples – perform a series of choreographed dances. Traditionally, young women have turned to their friends and cousins to fill these roles. But as these parties become increasingly extravagant, quinceañeras are hiring professionals to serve as chambelanes.

It’s not entirely surprising. Finding a group willing to dedicate months of their time to participate in the event is no easy feat. The challenge to find a chambelán de honor – that is, the boy who will escort and dance with the quinceañera – is even greater. So instead of persuading the boys they know to take on these roles, young women are turning to professional chambelanes to relieve some of the pressure. With an expert, they know they’re getting someone reliable who is well-versed in the world of dance. By the baile portion of the evening, the honorees have endured hours of hair and makeup, mass, and last-minute problems that will almost certainly arise. Professional chambelanes guarantee that the dance won’t be one of them.

While it may seem like a novelty, this part of the industry has existed for at least a decade. In 2013, the Los Angeles Times reported on this growing industry, with an industry professional citing the quinceañeras trying to one-up their friends as a reason for the rise. Dance studios have facilitated this process. Some of the same companies that families hire to choreograph the waltz offer this service, with packages ranging anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Curious to learn more about the services they provide, we spoke to three professional chambelanes about how they handle multiple quinces, navigate school and this side hustle, and about the role they fill. Here are their stories.

Art by Alan López for Remezcla
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Eric Jimenez Reyes, 17

Location: San Fernando Valley, California
Studio: Diaz de Baile

Eric Jimenez Reyes is a seasoned professional chambelán. Beginning at the age of 10 at Diaz de Baile, Eric has participated in more than 150 quinces in his lifetime. Almost from the very beginning, Eric served as the chambelán de honor. Towering over most of his peers, the high school senior found that parents gravitated toward him because of his height. But, of course, Eric also has the dance background to justify the selection.

When he was 5, he began dancing folklorico, before branching out to salsa and bachata at different dance studios. He’s now the head choreographer of the crew of chambelanes, where he teaches technique to his fellow dancers.

Prices at Diaz de Baile depend on many factors – including number of chambelanes and the number of dances. But typically, a contract includes six two-hour rehearsals, where the quinceañera will learn the waltz and the surprise dance, which is comprised of a mix of two songs. Rehearsals take place on weekends, and because they’re not handling just one party at a time, oftentimes, they are back to back.

“It’s just keeping a schedule set, and sometimes, it’s rough, especially now that I’m in my senior year.”

It’s a lot of work for a teen who is also juggling high school, but he’s become something of an expert at time management in the process. “I have been in a dance studio since I was little,” he says. “So my parents always had a good structure of school comes first and then dance. So for me, it’s just keeping a schedule set, and sometimes, it’s rough, especially now that I’m in my senior year, we’re starting to talk about college and going on field trips. I need to have a lot of discipline, which I think is a good thing for me when I need to go to college.”

Eric only sees himself working as a chambelán for roughly two more years, but that doesn’t mean he’ll leave the quinceañera industry altogether. He’s flirted with the idea of starting his own business in the future, because as he’s seen firsthand, it’s a lucrative venture.

But for now, he’ll continue plugging away in this unpredictable and exciting environment. One of his most memorable experiences is having to learn an entire routine in just a few days’ time. He says, “Two years ago, a lady called me, she’s like, ‘Hey my quince is on a Saturday.’ I was thinking, ‘Oh, on a Saturday maybe in a few months.’ Then she’s like, ‘No, this Saturday.’ And she called me on a Thursday. [She said], ‘The dress rehearsal is on Friday, can you come in? We will pay you. You just come in and learn the choreography.’ I learned the choreo in two hours, and then on Saturday, we performed for the quince. That was crazy.”

Art by Alan López for Remezcla
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Cristian Hernandez, 19

Location: Houston
Studio: JD Showtime

Half Honduran, half Mexican Cristian Hernandez didn’t even become interested in dance until he participated in his first quince. At about 14, a friend asked him to participate in her party. Eventually the party’s choreographer contacted Cristian and let him know that he was starting his own chambelán company – something that was completely foreign to the teen at the time. He joined the team and learned about other dance studios. After a year, he decided to move on to JD Showtime, a more established company that has existed for more than a decade. That move challenged him in ways he didn’t expect.

“I thought I was really good,” he says. “I was always front and center [at the first company]. Quinceañeras would always request me. Once I came to JD Showtime, I realized I was nothing. I wasn’t ready to be at JD Showtime.”

He started dancing at a young age, thanks in part to his mom’s insistence that “every guy should know how to dance.” But he hasn’t done it professionally for very long, as he initially chose the life of an athlete. At JD Showtime, which specializes in hip hop, he found himself in the back at the very beginning. This only fueled him to become better. It took him three months of persistent determination to make strides.

Now, he’s no longer in the back and is something of a leader at the studio. The University of Houston student – who’s studying CNC machining – started off attending one or two quinces a month. Now, he can participate in as many as 10. The increase means he’s been able to do pretty well for himself. He paid for a 2016 Dodge Challenger with the money he’s made from dancing.

“They only get this one time in their lifetime. They want their daughters to shine as much as possible, and that’s what we do here.”

At JD, chambelán packages start at about $1,800. The studio has a core 10-member crew, but during busier times, they recruit dancers from the studio’s different teams. Though they mostly dance in quinceañeras, they’ve attended the occasional quinceañeros.

Choreographers begin to work with the quinceañeras three months before the event, but the chambelanes don’t learn any of the dances until the week of. “I know a lot of other teams would bring in the quinceañera and every time the guys would come, too,” he says. “But here since we’re so busy if we do that it’s really not smart to do that, to have all those dances in your head. We worry about just teaching [the chambelanes] the dances that they have to do that week, and then just moving on. That way the dances are fresh in their mind.”

Part of his goal is to keep the baile feeling interesting. So when he works directly with a quinceañera, he makes sure things aren’t so rigid. “If she’s my quinceañera, I make her dance with everyone,” he says. “You have to change it up. She dances with everybody, not just one person throughout the whole show.”

And people seem to respond to what the studio is doing. JD Showtime is incredibly in demand, with some clients driving a few hours each way for practices. One time, a quinceañera drove from New Orleans to work with this crew. But that’s sometimes the cost of hiring a professional.

“They want everything to go smoothly,” he says about his clients. “They only get this one time in their lifetime. They want their daughters to shine as much as possible, and that’s what we do here; we focus on putting up a show. It’s not just a few eight-counts, a few steps, putting it together and then done. It’s a show, making it look as best as possible and letting her stand out.”

Cristian can’t say exactly how many quinces he’s participated in – he can’t even remember the events he attended a month ago – he does know the number is in the hundreds. And there will probably be another 100 in his future. Because he looks young for his age, he plans to continue dancing for one or two more years. After that, he’ll move to a behind-the-scenes role and let the younger chambelanes shine.

Art by Alan López for Remezcla
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Edgar Vallejo, 20

Location: Waco, Texas
Company: Itzel Jaimez Choreography

Edgar Vallejos began his journey as a professional chambelán a little more than two years ago. Before that, he attended quinceañeras as a volunteer chambelán. But because his dancing stood out, Itzel Jaimez recruited him.

He’s been at the company since the very beginning, so the progression to leader of the group has felt natural. As the oldest member of the group, he also feels responsible for helping new members become acclimated. Even after about 50 quinceañeras under his belt, he knows anything can happen. He remembers one quince where he wasn’t alerted that the dance was going to begin. But from the bathroom, he could hear his cue. He rushed out and made it in the nick of time.

“[Parents] want someone that’s responsible, on time, and loves what they’re doing.”

Of course, not every moment is hectic – at least that his goal. The dancers work with the birthday girls for at least two months in order to build a relationship with them and ensure everyone feels comfortable with the choreography.

From what he’s seen, parents really appreciate the professionalism they provide. “It’s a job for us, and I believe that they don’t want to just hire or get anybody,” he says. “They want someone that’s responsible, on time, and loves what they’re doing. Obviously, I would want all of that for my daughter. If it was gonna be her quinceañera, I would wanna hire somebody professional that loves what they’re doing, gives the best performance that they possibly can just so she can have the best day of her life.”

Like other professional chambelanes, Edgar recognizes the job’s small window of time. Currently a student at McLennan County Community College, he will call it quits after this year so that he can attend the University of Texas at Arlington, where he plans to major in psychology. But dance won’t ever be too far away. While school will be his main focus, he’ll come back and work on small projects for the studio every now and then.