Last weekend, I was asked to accompany some singers for a friend's daughter's quinceañera. For those of you not similarly engrossed in Latin culture, the only way to describe a quince is thusly: a birthday party on steroids. Quince is the Spanish word for fifteen. The closest thing to a quinceañera in American culture is possibly a Sweet 16 party - but only if you watch that annoying reality show with the rich kids on MTV. Maybe it's even closer to being on a par with a Bat Mitzvah without quite the the religious significance. It's basically a coming out party disguised as a wedding reception for a girl who's fifteen and not getting married.

When I lived in South America, I attended dozens of these parties... my favorite tradition at them was the ribbon cake, where small charms with ribbons attached to them are baked into the cake with the ribbon end sticking out. At some point in the evening before the cake is cut, all the teen-aged girls get to choose a ribbon and on cue, yank theirs out of the cake. One of the charms is always a small ring and whoever is lucky enough to get this one is the recipient of either a) good luck for a year or b) the first marriage proposal, depending on local superstition. At one party I attended, they let me pull ribbons with the other girls although I was decidedly NOT a teenager at the time. I got the ring. It took another eight years for my first marriage proposal after that event, so I'm going with the good luck theory.

At a quinceañera, the birthday girl dresses up in an opulent white gown that is only slightly less ornate than a wedding dress and chooses several of her best friends, who have the dubious distinction of being her attendants and dressing in bad bridesmaids' gowns. Not unlike a wedding. Each of them is either accompanied by her father, or a like aged-boy, in a tuxedo. They process in and stand there looking lovely (but never lovelier than the birthday girl - that is not allowed) while everyone goes through the reception line, gives presents to the birthday girl and greets everyone else in the receiving line. Then they party their brains out.

are always elaborate, but the one this weekend took the cake with even more pomp and circumstance than those I remember. They had formal presentations of gifts and flowers, each symbolizing something about turning from a child into a woman, two singers, an emcee, and a waltz. Each section of the program represented a different stage in life. I was disappointed to note that my favorite tradition of the ribbons and the charms in the cake apparently isn't a Brazilian custom, because those were absent. But the cake itself rivaled any wedding cake I've seen in the past - three-tiered and decorated with flowers. And, unlike any party in Brazil I'm sure, the food came complete with Halal, Kosher and Vegetarian options. It was crazy intense.

After the girl, her family, and her friends all processed in, they simply stood in a row looking lovely and holding their not-a-bridal-bouquets in front of everyone while the program ran on. There was a musical number, some talking, an exchange where someone took away the doll she carried representing her childhood and replaced it with a bouquet of flowers representing her emergence into adulthood, more talking, introducing of all the attendants, another musical number, more talking, dancing, etc.

After the second musical number, I looked up from the piano in time to see one of the little boys in a tux buckle at the knees and start on his way to the ground before the mother of the birthday girl caught him. She looked up and uttered the understatement of the night, "Is anyone here a doctor? He's not feeling well." The party planner in charge (yes, they hired a party planner) was also apparently a part time nurse so she ran up, caught him by the legs and they carried him off into the lobby while everyone else, including the emcee, simply stood by looking.

I thought to myself, "I know what this is." Many was the time back in my high school choir days when some nervous, overdressed kid locked his knees standing on the risers, then forced all the blood to his or her head singing and passed out. It happened at least once a semester. (I've heard lots of tall tales about kids falling off the top riser, falling into the choir to be caught by peers, and even one about a tenor who passed out during the death section of the Requiem Mass they were performing and fell into the orchestra pit on top of a trombone player. He supposedly later sneaked back on stage during the resurrection section of the Mass, thinking it seemed the appropriate thing to do.) So it didn't really worry me or anyone else in the room and the program simply halted while they waited for the boy to come back and take his place.

While everyone was standing around staring in awkward silence, the thought occurred to me: "Hmmm... maybe the girls who are left standing should sit down too." and I looked up, wondering how to tactfully suggest this, just in time to see a young girl in a peach ruffled dress nearest the piano start to swoon. I hauled my enormous pregnant bulk off the piano bench and ran to the side of the room and brought back a chair just in time for her companion to sit her down in before she hit the floor. She was out cold. People immediately crowded around her, yelling her name and trying to fan her with their hands, which was now a lost cause because they'd formed a bubble around her so tight that little air could enter or escape. I tried to hand her the water bottle I'd grabbed off the piano bench but by that time, I'd been squeezed out.

Which, I guess, is a good thing because while everyone was all concerned about her and the boy who was out in the lobby, the other girls were still left standing. I looked up to see yet another little one start to swoon, grabbed her date by the elbow and said, "She needs to go outside and sit down... now."

The meeting planner looked up and said, "Ladies who are left standing, please make sure that you aren't locking your knees." About this time, another teen-aged witness to the carnage had an emotional breakdown and began sobbing uncontrollably.

"I have a better idea," I said, "Why don't you all go out into the lobby, get a drink of water and sit down until this is all sorted out." The girls did and we all adjourned into the lobby, leaving the confused DJ to play the only thing he had handy: strangely inappropriate salsa music.

As it turned out, everyone was fine. No one was really sick, just overdressed, overheated and overnervous. They were all able to come back to the party later on, save the one girl who actually passed out and was simply too embarrassed to show her face again. Hope she rented that dress rather than bought it.