- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 5, 2009

MIAMI

For a generation of girls, coming of age during this recession calls for a celebration that can be as much DIY as it is miniwedding.

Planning a quinceanera? Think about choreographing your own dance routine. Feeding a Sweet 16? Hope you know how to bake. Bat mitzvah on the way? You might want to share your party with a neighbor.

“You don’t know if you’re going to lose your job. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t want to go overboard,” says Yanicet Ganuzas. For her daughter Yanelis’ quinceanera, the lavish party many Latino families throw when their daughters turn 15, she spent $14,000 — a little more than half of what she spent two years ago on another daughter.

Other families like the Ganuzases are cutting thousands of dollars from their budgets for teenage girls’ coming-of-age celebrations because of the sour economy, party planners say, but stopping short of canceling the bashes. After all, the parties mark a milestone in otherwise uncertain times.

“You never know if you’re going to get married, but you know you’re going to turn 15,”’ says Deborah R. Vargas, an American studies professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

In Atlanta, Michelle Bruck and a neighbor are planning to combine their daughters’ bat mitzvahs in two years to share the cost of renting a space, entertaining common friends and paying the photographer and DJ. In all, each family expects to chip in $7,000, saving about $5,000 apiece.

A bat mitzvah — like the bar mitzvah celebrations boys have — marks the moment a Jewish girl comes of age and becomes responsible for obeying the tenets of the faith.

“Our girls are a week apart, and they’re very good friends at school and through our temple,” says Mrs. Bruck, whose daughter Jenna and her friend Alena Skyer are both 11. “I just said, … ‘We could save a lot of money and have fun if we have this together.’ ”

Mrs. Bruck’s neighbor, Lisa Skyer, says the families are considering printing their own invitations instead of having them printed professionally.

“That’s something most people throw away. … I’m sure we won’t be spending much on that,” she says.

Vendors also are adapting to cost-conscious customers. Photographer Juan Escobedo of Austin, Texas, recently dropped his prices for the first time in eight years.

In the past year he has seen families host shorter parties. Mothers cook and decorate the candy boxes or other souvenirs for guests. Families hire disc jockeys instead of bands, which are more expensive.

During more flush times in his three decades in the business, Miami party planner Angel Diaz has seen a belly-dancing birthday girl entertain atop an elephant and another escorted onstage by a tiger.

Now, he says, he’s not seeing fewer customers, but they are spending less. A party budget that would have been $17,000 two years ago is $12,000. Instead of $35,000, a family is spending $25,000.

Having a smaller party didn’t dampen Yanelis Gan uzas’ excitement.

Two years ago, her parents hired a choreographer to create her sister’s dance routine. Yanelis and her friends skipped the professional guidance this year, practicing their own dance routine for three months. At her bash in March, nine young couples moved stiffly to a mix of waltz, salsa, reggaeton and hip-hop to represent the blended culture of a Latin-American girl.

“It’s like one of these once-in-a-lifetime things with family and friends. It’s the moment; it’s so sweet,” says Yanelis, a Cuban-American girl wearing 4-inch heels. “I’m going to miss it.”

That’s why the Ganuzas family hosted her quinceanera. That’s why mother Yanicet dipped pretzels and fruits in chocolate herself for dessert, among other ways to save. For the family. For Yanelis.

“She’s the last baby I have,” Mrs. Ganuzas said. “Tradition.”

Associated Press writer Dionne Walker in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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