Almost 200 teenage girls, many orphans or runaways, posed in donated ball gowns and danced waltzes Saturday as Mexico City's government threw a mass "quinceanera" coming-out party for disadvantaged teens.
The quinceanera ball, held near a girl's 15th birthday, is a rite of passage in Mexican society that often rivals weddings in expense and fanfare. But girls from poor families or those separated from loved ones often miss out on the tradition.
A truck brought 180 bouquets of roses and lilies and huge sacks of rose petals for the event in Mexico City's main plaza. Instead of traditional carriages, open-top tour buses were sent to ferry the girls to the ball.
"I'm very happy, because this is a tradition which we should all continue," said Rosa Nayeli Lagunes, 14, who showed up for the ball in a red taffeta dress with an embroidered white bodice. Fourteen-year-olds who will turn 15 this year were allowed to participate.
"Let's hope we can do it," Lagunes said of the attempt to set a record for a simultaneous mass quinceanera. City authorities said they contacted officials at the Guinness Book of World Records, but it was unclear if any Guinness representative were on hand to certify the event as the largest of its kind.
The city's Youth Institute, which organized the event, said about 180 girls participated, including some older than 15 who had never had a coming-out party.
The city government also showcased sexual education information at the event. Some of the girls were given sashes to wear, each bearing the name of an area in which young people have rights: education, recreation, and a clean environment, among others.
The keynote speaker was a 16-year-old who said she missed having her own quinceanera because she was busy caring for the baby she had at age 14. She urged the other girls at the event to make informed choices. This week, Mexico City enacted a law legalizing abortion, the first of its kind in Mexico.
Many of the girls spent the day at a city building, doing their hair and applying donated makeup.
"They are excited, with their dreams and their dresses," said Deyanira Moran, an outreach officer for the city's Youth Institute.
The only thing in short supply at Saturday's ball were tuxedo-wearing boys _ usually relatives _ known as "chambelanes," who traditionally serve as escorts at such events.
"Not everyone" has an escort, Lagunes said. "We've been sharing them."
Since taking office in December, leftist Mayor Marcelo Ebrard has become known for offering free cultural events, including free "urban beaches" at local parks made with pools and trucked-in sand.