Amid Cuba opening, Havana quinceanera biz booms

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Amid Cuba opening, Havana quinceanera biz booms
In this Dec. 20, 2015 photo, Daniela Santos Torres, 15, waits in a classic American car with her father Ivan Santos to ride to her quinceanera party in the town of Punta Brava near Havana, Cuba. Daniela left Cuba when she was 3, returning in December for her quinceanera photos and party. She now lives in Glendale, Arizona, where her father runs a home remodeling business. She said returning to Cuba for her celebration was "a dream," allowing her to include her extended family and friends on the island. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Dec. 3, 2015 photo, Gladys Barroso Quintana, who lives in Cuba, changes behind her parents' car from a traditional quinceanera dress to a more modern one, in a street decorated with a mural of Cuban revolutionary leader Ernesto "Che" Guevara in Havana, Cuba. Quinceanera packages at most studios in Cuba start around $150 and include professional hair and makeup artists, scenic Havana backdrops and multiple wardrobe changes _ a bargain compared to similar services in the U.S. that typically start at about $1,000. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Dec. 18, 2015 photo, Daniela Santos Torres, 14, chooses a dress for her quinceanera party at Estudio Mayer, the company her family hired to take her portraits and organize her birthday party in Havana, Cuba. Daniela left Cuba when she was 3, returning in December for her quinceanera photos and party. She now lives in Glendale, Arizona, where her father runs a home remodeling business. She said returning to Cuba for her celebration was âa dream,â allowing her to include her extended family and friends on the island. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Dec. 18, 2015 photo, Daniela Santos Torres, 14, applies lipstick as she gets ready for a portrait session with EstudioMayer which her family hired to take her quinceanera photos and organize her birthday party in Havana, Cuba. Daniela left Cuba when she was 3, returning in December for her quinceanera photos and party. She now lives in Glendale, Arizona, where her father runs a home remodeling business. She said returning to Cuba for her celebration was âa dream,â allowing her to include her extended family and friends on the island. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Dec. 18, 2015 photo, Daniela Santos Torres, 14, breaks for a meal with her father Ivan Santos during a portrait session at EstudioMayer, which they hired to take her pictures and organize her birthday party in Havana, Cuba. Daniela left Cuba when she was 3, returning in December for her quinceanera photos and party. She now lives in Glendale, Arizona, where her father runs a home remodeling business. She said returning to Cuba for her celebration was âa dream,â allowing her to include her extended family and friends on the island. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Dec. 18, 2015 photo, Daniela Santos Torres, 14, chooses a dress for her quinceanera party at Estudio Mayer which took her portraits and organized her party in Havana, Cuba. Daniela left Cuba when she was 3, returning in December for her quinceanera photos and party. She now lives in Glendale, Arizona, where her father runs a home remodeling business. She said returning to Cuba for her celebration was âa dream,â allowing her to include her extended family and friends on the island. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Dec. 27, 2015 photo, Estefania Hernandez Perera, 14, who lives in Cuba, is photographed by FotoEcos, a studio that specializes in quinceaneras, along the Malecon in Havana, Cuba. Hernandez is the third in her family to hire FotoEcos for their quinceanera portraits. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Dec. 3, 2015 photo, Gladys Barroso Quintana, 15, who lives in Cuba, poses for photographers outside the Russian Orthodox Church in Havana, Cuba. Cuban reforms permitting small-scale, private businesses and the re-establishment of U.S.-Cuban diplomatic relations have encouraged new photo and event planning businesses for events such as girlsâ 15th birthdays. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Dec. 3, 2015 photo, Gladys Barroso Quintana, 15, who lives in Cuba, poses for her quinceanera portraits at the National Hotel as tourists watch in Havana, Cuba. Celebrations known as âquinceaneras,â marking a girlâs 15th birthday and recognizing her transition to womanhood, date back centuries in Latin America. Some vestiges of the older celebrations remain, with Latin American girls performing traditional waltzes. But in Cuba, photographs are the main focus. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Dec. 27, 2015 photo, Estefania Hernandez Perera, 14, who lives in Cuba, is photographed by FotoEcos, a studio that specializes in quinceaneras in Havana, Cuba. Many studios are run by former state sector professionals who purchased cameras with the help of U.S. relatives and have found taking pictures far more profitable than the average monthly government salary of $20. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Nov. 21, 2015 photo, Camila Lopez Rivas, 14, poses for portraits on a beach in Havana, Cuba, as an assistant lifts the train of her dress to make it look like its flying in the wind. Camila lives in Miami, the daughter of a truck driver who left Cuba when she was a baby. She doesnât remember the island, but wanted to return for the photographs and videos that Latin American girls typically take for their 15th birthdays. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Dec. 5, 2015 photo, Yunailey Dopico Martinez, 14, who lives in Cuba, adjusts her hat during a quinceanera photo session at the National Hotel in Havana, Cuba. The daughters of workers in Cubaâs emerging private sector are helping fuel business. With the economic reforms, many families on the island now have extra cash to spend for quniceanera celebrations. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Nov. 21, 2015 photo, Camila Lopez Rivas, 14, poses for quinceanera portraits with Hansel, left, a member of Cuban band group Los Angeles in Havana, Cuba. Camila lives in Miami, the daughter of a truck driver who left Cuba when she was a baby. She doesnât remember the island, but wanted to return for the photographs and videos that Latin American girls typically take for their 15th birthdays. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Nov. 29 2015 photo, a quinceanera poses during her photo session by postcards of Cuban revolutionary leader Ernesto "Che" Guevara near the Catedral in Havana, Cuba. Celebrations known as âquinceaneras,â marking a girlâs 15th birthday and recognizing her transition to womanhood, date back centuries in Latin America. Some vestiges of the older celebrations remain, with Latin American girls performing traditional waltzes. But in Cuba, photographs are the main focus. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Dec. 13, 2015 photo, girls watch Amanda Teresa Betancourt, who lives in Cuba, during her quinceanera photo shoot with EstudiosMayer in Havana, Cuba. Quinceanera packages at most studios start around $150 and include professional hair and makeup artists, scenic Havana backdrops and multiple wardrobe changes _ a bargain compared to similar services in the U.S. that typically start at about $1,000. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Dec. 13, 2015 photo, Amanda Teresa Betancourt, who lives in Cuba, poses during a quinceanera photo session as a hotel doorman stands by in Havana, Cuba. Cuban reforms permitting small-scale, private businesses and the re-establishment of U.S.-Cuban diplomatic relations have encouraged new photo and event planning businesses for events such as girlsâ 15th birthdays. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Dec. 13, 2015 photo, Barbara Concepcion takes pictures of her daughter Amanda Teresa Betancur, who lives in Cuba, before her quinceanera party in Havana, Cuba. In the past, quinceanera photos typically featured girls in poufy dresses and crowns. But at many Havana studios, there are now punk-rock style sneakers and miniskirts among the rows of high heels and gowns. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Dec. 13, 2015 photo, a soft drink vendor smiles as he watches Amanda Teresa Betancur, who lives in Cuba, ride in a classic American convertible, on her way to her quinceanera party in Havana, Cuba. The daughters of workers in Cubaâs emerging private sector are helping fuel business. With the economic reforms, many families on the island now have extra cash to spend for quniceanera celebrations. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Dec. 20, 2015 photo, Daniela Santos Torres, 15, speaks with her boyfriend Erick before her quinceanera party in the town of Punta Brava near Havana, Cuba. Daniela left Cuba when she was 3, returning in December for her quinceanera photos and party. She now lives in Glendale, Arizona, where her father runs a home remodeling business. She said returning to Cuba for her celebration was "a dream," allowing her to include her extended family and friends on the island. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Dec. 20, 2015 photo, a doll and cake sit ready for the quinceanera party organized to celebrate Daniela Santos Torres' 15th birthday in the town of Punta Brava near Havana, Cuba. Daniela left Cuba when she was 3, returning in December for her quinceanera photos and party. She now lives in Glendale, Arizona, where her father runs a home remodeling business. She said returning to Cuba for her celebration was âa dream,â allowing her to include her extended family and friends on the island. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Dec. 13, 2015 photo, Amanda Teresa Betancur, 15, who lives in Cuba, practices her opening dance with her boyfriend Erick before her quinceanera party in Havana, Cuba. Celebrations known as âquinceaneras,â marking a girlâs 15th birthday and recognizing her transition to womanhood, date back centuries in Latin America. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Dec. 20, 2015 photo, Ivan Santos removes the sandals of his daughter Daniela Santos Torres as part of a tradition in which fathers place heeled shoes on their daughters during her quinceanera party in the town of Punta brava near Havana, Cuba. Daniela left Cuba when she was 3, returning in December for her quinceanera photos and party. She now lives in Glendale, Arizona, where her father runs a home remodeling business. She said returning to Cuba for her celebration was âa dream,â allowing her to include her extended family and friends on the island. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Dec. 20, 2015 photo, Daniela Santos Torres, 15, gives a candle to her father as she gifts candles to the most important members of her family during her quinceanera party in the town of Punta Brava near Havana, Cuba. Daniela left Cuba when she was 3, returning in December for her quinceanera photos and party. She now lives in Glendale, Arizona, where her father runs a home remodeling business. She said returning to Cuba for her celebration was âa dream,â allowing her to include her extended family and friends on the island. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Dec. 20, 2015 photo, a classic American car sits decorated with balloons before taking Daniela Santos Torres, 15, to her quinceanera party in the town of Punta Brava near Havana, Cuba. Daniela left Cuba when she was 3, returning in December for her quinceanera photos and party. She now lives in Glendale, Arizona, where her father runs a home remodeling business. She said returning to Cuba for her celebration was "a dream," allowing her to include her extended family and friends on the island. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
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HAVANA (AP) — Up a winding flight of stairs at a beachside Havana home, Camila Lopez Rivas lies on the tile floor, smiling mischievously into a video camera circling overhead.

Tossed around her are layers of a blue and aqua taffeta dress, the first of nine outfits the 14-year-old will pose in, from colonial ball gowns to a neon green bikini.

Camila lives in Miami, the daughter of a truck driver who left Cuba when she was a baby. She doesn't remember the island, but wanted to return for the photographs and videos that Latin American girls typically take for their 15th birthdays.

"I left very young," Camila said between a halt in the taping. "But I'm from here."

Such voyages back to Cuba are becoming increasingly common for girls who find that marking the milestone on the island is both appealing and economical. Cuban reforms permitting small-scale, private businesses and the re-establishment of U.S.-Cuban diplomatic relations have encouraged new photo and event planning businesses for events such as girls' 15th birthdays.

The complicated networks connecting Cubans in Miami and Havana feed the growth: Camila learned about Marbella Studio, the business she hired, from another girl in Florida who had her photos taken there.

Marbella Studios in Guanabo, a 30-minute drive from Havana, is located in an Art Deco-style home and employs 12 photographers, stylists and videographers. There are more than 500 outfits to choose from in three dressing rooms and a calendar full of appointments with clients. Owner Sarah Medina Vigor said about 60 percent of the 500 or so girls her studio photographs each year travel here from other countries, with July and December being the peak months.

Celebrations known as "quinceaneras," marking a girl's 15th birthday and recognizing her transition to womanhood, date back centuries in Latin America. Some vestiges of the older celebrations remain, with Latin American girls performing traditional waltzes. But in Cuba, photographs are the main focus.

Signs for new photo businesses that document 15th birthdays line the doorways of decrepit Havana buildings and advertisements abound on websites such as Revolico.com, an underground Cuban Craigslist. Many studios are run by former state sector professionals who purchased cameras with the help of U.S. relatives and have found taking pictures far more profitable than the average monthly government salary of $20.

Alberto Gonzalez, owner of Aladino photo studio, said he saw an equal number of clients from Cuba and abroad over the summer. "This year, more came than any other," he said of the visitors.

But the daughters of workers in Cuba's emerging private sector are also helping fuel business. With the economic reforms, many families on the island now have extra cash to spend for quniceanera celebrations.

They include 14-year-old Dachely Silva, who sat at Aladino one afternoon before a gold-rimmed mirror as a makeup artist layered mascara onto her eyelashes. Her mother, Mayelin Alfonso, recalled posing in just one dress for her own 15th birthday.

Now, her husband has a business driving tourists around in a restored classic American car. Without the business, "we would not be able to afford this," Alfonso said.

Quinceanera packages at most studios start around $150 and include professional hair and makeup artists, scenic Havana backdrops and multiple wardrobe changes — a bargain compared to similar services in the U.S. that typically start at about $1,000.

In the past, quinceanera photos typically featured girls in poufy dresses and crowns. But at many Havana studios, there are now punk-rock style sneakers and miniskirts among the rows of high heels and gowns. The girls also pose in bikinis, feathered boas and little else for photos that would raise eyebrows back in some parts of the U.S.

Some girls hold their quinceanera parties in Cuba as well. On one fall evening, dozens of teens stood outside a new party hall in a restored colonial building where a woman who lives in the U.S. was throwing her sister a 15th birthday party.

A guest, 14-year-old Maria Fernandez of Havana, said it was "very emotional" to see friends come back to the island for their 15th birthday celebrations. "They have friends and an entire life here," she said.

Daniela Santos Torres, 14, left Cuba when she was 3, returning in December for her quinceanera photos and party. She now lives in Glendale, Arizona, where her father runs a home remodeling business. She said returning to Cuba for her celebration was "a dream," allowing her to include her extended family and friends on the island.

While many Cuban Americans who left the island shortly after the 1959 revolution remain reluctant to visit, those who left for primarily economic reasons over the past decade rarely hesitate to return.

"Recent Cuban immigrants tend to support more engagement of all kinds with Cuba, including restoring diplomatic ties, lifting the embargo, allowing travel by all U.S. citizens, and investing in the fledgling private sector of the island's economy," said Jorge Duany, director of Florida International University's Cuba Research Institute.

Camila finished her eight-hour photo and video shoot with a session at the beach. In February, she'll return for her party at the Melia Cohiba Hotel near Havana's Malecon seaside promenade.

"Cuba is in style," said her father, Eliecer Lopez Rufin. "Everyone wants to come do their party here."

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