‘Chambelán’ – Meaning in Mexican Spanish

In short – ‘chambelán’ translates as ‘chamberlain’ in English, but it’s also a term used in Mexico and other Latin American countries to refer to a young man who accompanies AND dances with a ‘quinceañera’ (or ‘a fifteen-year-old girl’)at her birthday party.

In a democratic republic like Mexico, you’d expect a term like ‘chamberlain’ to be, well, kinda obsolete … but it most definitely ISN’T, and that’s because of the ‘quince años’ tradition during which ‘quinceañeras’ are transformed into princesses for a day: they wear grand gowns and tiaras and are accompanied by young men (or chambelanes) who act as their trusted companions.

Yep, it kinda sounds like something out of “The Crown” to me too!

And what exactly does a ‘chambelán’ do? Well, keep scrolling to find out!




Uses / Meanings of ‘chambelán

Chambelán’ can be used in the following ways –

  • The name given to young male relatives or friends who escort a ‘quinceañera’ during her ‘quince años’ party

  • The name given to a young man hired as a ‘quinceañera’s’ professional dance partner


The name given to young male relatives or friends who escort a ‘quinceañera’ during her ‘quince años’ party

Let’s take a little step back for context:

In Mexico the term ‘quinceañera’ refers to a girl who turns fifteen years old, and her traditional birthday party is called a ‘quince años’ (which literally translates as ‘fifteen years’ in English) OR ‘mis quince’ (‘my fifteen’).

So, even though it’s common to refer to the party itself as a ‘quinceañera’ in the U.S., the word actually means ‘fifteen year old girl’!



Now we’re ready to dive into what exactly a ‘chambelán’ is.

Normally the ‘quinceañera’ chooses a group of male relatives and cousins (of a similar age to her) and asks them to be her ‘chambelanes’ (plural of ‘chambelán’)

And, well, they need to take the proposal pretty darn seriously!

They’re expected to buy a suit or uniform chosen by the ‘quinceañera’, appear in a special pre-party photo shoot (or video), escort her throughout the party and even rehearse an elaborate choreography for the waltz!

Dos hermanos

Andrea – ¿Vamos al cine?

Héctor – No puedo.

Andrea – ¿Y eso?

Héctor – Mi prima me pidió que sea su chambelán y tengo cita con el sastre para que me haga el traje.

Andrea – ¡Jajaja! ¡No te imagino bailando, la verdad!



Two siblings

Andrea – Wanna go to the movies?

Hector – I can’t.

Andrea – Why’s that?

Héctor – My cousin asked me to be her chambelánand I have an appointment with the tailor to get my suit made.

Andrea – Hahaha! I honestly can’t imagine you dancing!


En una fiesta de quince años

Aldo – ¿Sabes quiénes serán los chambelanes de mi sobrina?

Miriam – Aún no se decide. Ya ves que es muy quisquillosa* y quiere que todo salga perfecto.



At a quinceañera party

Aldo – Do you know who’ll be my niece’s chambelanes?

Miriam – She hasn’t decided yet. She’s really picky and wants everything to be perfect.

The name given to a young man hired as a ‘quinceañera’s’ professional dance partner

Several dances are normally performed at a quinceañera party. It usually begins with a waltz (often a simple ballad that’s danced like a waltz), during which the ‘quinceañera’ wears a classic princess-cut gown.

This is then followed by a dramatic change of wardrobe, music (pop, salsa, cumbia, hip-hop and even reggaeton) and much more complex choreography. ‘Chambelanes’ have become an essential part of this dance, and sometimes families prefer to hire professional dancers.

This has become so common that nowadays you can find A LOT OF agencies offering such services.

Durante el baile de unos quince años

¡Órale! ¡Los chambelanes parecen profesionales!



During a quinceanera’s dance

Wow! The chambelanes look like professional dancers!




Sara – ¿Quiénes van a ser tus chambelanes?

Teresa – Mi hermano va a ser mi chambelán de honor*, pero el resto los van a contratar mis papás.



Sara – Who are your chambelanes gonna be?

Teresa – My brother is gonna be my chambelán of honor*, but the rest will be hired by my parents.

*Erika’s note – in some cases it’s customary to have a ‘chambelán’ of honor, who’s the main dance partner of the ‘quinceañera’.


Chambelán‘ pronunciation

‘Chambelán’ has three syllables:

  • ‘Cham’ is said like ‘chahm’

  • ‘Be’ sounds like ‘beh’

  • The last syllable is said like ‘lahn’ (and it’s also stressed!)

/ chahm-beh-lahn /


Similar words / expressions to ‘chambelán

Padrinos

‘Padrinos’ are a big part of Mexican celebrations!

It literally translates as ‘godparents’ in English, but in this instance, they’re friends or relatives who help the quinceañera with some of the party’s expenses and costs.

¡Mis padrinos me compraron un vestido maravilloso!

My padrinos bought me a wonderful dress!

Madrinas

While ‘padrinos’ can also be used to describe married couples who sponsor or help the quinceañera’s family with expenses, ‘madrinas’ (or ‘godmothers’ in English) are exclusively female.

Todas mis tías van a ser madrinas de mis quince años.

All of my aunts are gonna be madrinas at my quinceañera.

Damas

In the past it used to be common to have ‘damas’ (or ‘ladies’) at quinceañeras, and they had a similar role to bridesmaids at weddings. Nowadays, however, it’s much less common.

Martha – ¿Vas a tener damas en tus quince años?

Luisa – No, solo chambelanes.



Martha – Are you going to have damas at your quinceañera?

Luisa – No, only chambelanes.


Final thoughts

So, now you know what a ‘chambelán’ is and all that comes with it!

‘Quince años’ is still a VERY popular tradition in Mexico, and entire families often gather together to celebrate, so if you get invited to one, get ready to party!

And if you get chosen as a ‘padrino’ or ‘madrina’, maybe you can bring the ‘mole’

But what about the ‘mero mole’? Well, you should probably find out what that means next … ¡Hasta la próxima!

Rupert's lived in Mexico for nearly a decade and has been working as a Spanish teacher for even longer (over 10 years now, wow!). He specializes in simple (yet effective) explanations and is a veritable grammar-whizz.

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