Managing a Covid Quinceanera

Durham resident Catherine Lopez, now 20, poses for her quinceanera photograph with her damas and chambelanes at her side. (Photo courtesy of Catherine Lopez)

May 16, 2020, was the day I was going to transform into a young woman.

That is, until Covid 19.

This is the story of how Covid 19 impacted what was supposed to be a day to remember.

I know what you might be thinking: “What is a quinceanera?”

 A quinceanera, also referred as a “15,” is a big celebration for a young girl becoming a young woman. These celebrations are most common in Latinx culture, when a 14-year-old girl is turning 15. The Spanish word “quince” is the number 15.

A quinceanera is a cultural coming of age party for Latinx girls. This year’s pandemic has made “coming of age” a different experience for many youth in Durham. (Photo courtesy of Samantha Martinez)

This party is usually celebrated with the girl who’s being celebrated (referred to as “la quinceañera”) family and friends. The party includes dancing, food, gifts and mostly family fun with the theme of the birthday girl’s choice. The theme of my party was royalty. I chose royalty because having such a big party with the big dress and crown, I’d feel like a princess.

The party usually holds approximately 300 people, depending on how many people the girl being celebrated invites. The planning of this big celebration could take up to a year, possibly more. It’s also very expensive to plan and organize a quinceanera, and on average costs $10,000.

A lot of planning goes into this party, but it all can differ from girl-to-girl throwing the party. The dancing and food can also differ depending on the girl’s culture and beliefs. For some quinceañeras, the girl may have a ceremony before the celebration, most commonly in a church, where all the people were invited to come and get blessed and bless the girl having the party.

There are lots of fun activities when it comes to quinceaneras. They serve food, usually food specific to their culture. At my party, I was going to serve chicken with rice and beans on the side along with tortillas.

There is also a two-part dance. Before I begin dancing the waltz, which is the slow dance, I call the padrinos, the friends or family who buy important things — such as a doll that looks like me with my dress, jewelry with the number 15, heels and my crown. 

These people become the godmother or godfather of that item given to me. I then change into my heels, crown and jewelry. Once I’ve changed into all of my accessories, then I dance with my mom; this dance is referred to as the mother and daughter dance. Afterward, the waltz begins. The waltz is usually danced with the chambelanes, the guys, and the damas, the girls. Once the waltz is finished, I would give time to my “court,” who are the dancers, to get dressed and ready for la baile sorpresa which means the “surprise dance.”

While I take the time to take pictures and greet every and anyone at my party. La baile sorpresa is the surprise dance which includes a few of my native dances that I chose. Punta is from Honduras and Cumbia is from El Salvador; these are my native dances.

For example, I chose to dance cumbia, bachata, tribal, merengue and punta. My favorite dances are bachata and cumbia because they are nice and easy to dance, but I also love doing the turns. I chose to have a family dance because of how big my family is — I have four brothers, a sister and my mom. Each of my family members has a certain song to dance with just me. Once those surprise dances are over, this is when the real party begins.

The way I planned my party was very similar to this explanation.  Having to look for a place to host the party was the most difficult part because sometimes our first choice for the venue isn’t available on our chosen date.  I also had to choose and find someone who sells the outfits for the damas and the suits for the chambelanes.

The time put into practices and the patience needed was a commitment for me and also for the court. Apart from practices and the difficulties, a month or two away from the party we had to pause practices — all the stores where things were bought were closed because the virus stepped in.

I was thinking maybe it would take a couple weeks for everything to clear, but it ended up taking more than a month. I eventually had to change the date from the original date of May 16 to two months later, to July 11.

 Changing the date was upsetting enough, but then, a couple of weeks later, as we got closer to July, I got a call to tell me the party had to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 virus.

In conclusion, Covid 19 has affected many lives in many ways. My family was devastated because this would have been their first time experiencing a quincenera of their own from our family. To make up for this party we will have patience and more time to put things together to make this a sweet 16 instead.

I was thinking my story was a little unique since I was having the most important party of my life and it got canceled, so I thought I’d share this with you all. I hope I educated you as much as I could on my culture!


A quinceanera is a cultural coming of age party for Latinx girls. This year’s pandemic has made “coming of age” a different experience for many youth in Durham. (Photo courtesy of Samantha Martinez)

Photo caption

Durham resident Catherine Lopez, now 20, poses for her quinceanera photograph with her damas and chambelanes at her side.  (Photo courtesy of Catherine Lopez)