On a crisp evening in North Houston, the Ab Boyz get into formation in the parking lot of a banquet hall. Dressed in sparkly maroon suits, the four teenage dancers practice their suave choreography one last time before heading inside to surprise the audience of friends and family that has gathered for Alyssa’s quinceañera. 

“We’re really late,” says Abraham Navarro, the 24-year-old who runs the whole show. The performers’ chill energy and pristine suits mask the fact that this is their fifth quinceañera of the day; four in Houston, and one in Austin, two and a half hours away. Navarro tells me how stressful it is to run a business, but at this point he’s become a pro at doing “fifteens,” as he calls the birthday parties that are the Boyz’ bread and butter. “Are you ready, Pedro?” he asks one of the boys. “Alright, let’s head inside.” 

The announcer cues them in: “The hottest dance crew in Houston, Texas. The Ab Boyz!” The dapper performers make their way to the center stage where they meet Alyssa, who shines in her extravagant maroon dress. Sparks fly and fog fills the floor as they perform a highly choreographed dance routine set to a premade mix that incorporates Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games” with traditional Mexican music. The boys lift Alyssa up and spin her in the air as her poofy gown shimmers for the crowd. If a quinceañera is thought of in traditional Mexican culture as the coming-of-age moment where a teen girl becomes a woman, this performance is the shining (Instagrammable, of course) moment of the day. The Boyz may have been late, but it doesn’t matter—all eyes, and phone cameras, are on them. The crew is part boy band, part cheerleaders, with a hint of Magic Mike–esque swag, all with the overarching goal of enhancing the party experience. It’s this amorphous, infectious energy that has allowed them to infiltrate the Southeast Texas quinceañera scene and create a new model for what a successful quinceañera looks like.

“I guess you could say we inspire other dance teams,” Navarro tells me. Since starting Ab Boyz in 2019, Navarro has turned them into viral sensations, with over 200,000 followers on Instagram and nearly 800,000 on TikTok. Their technical title is chambelanes, or boys who accompany the birthday girl throughout the night as part of her quinceañera court, typically made up of family members and friends. Navarro has taken a DIY tradition and professionalized it: Whereas typical chambelanes will awkwardly stumble through a novice-friendly routine, the Ab Boyz go above and beyond. They do flips. They energize the room like hype men, professional showmen hell-bent on creating a magical, and potentially viral, moment for whatever party room they arrive in. And what is normally an unpaid honor bestowed on close friends has, in some circles, become an additional quince expense—and a must-have.  

“It was a joke at first,” Navarro says of the group’s inception, nonchalant and casual even when talking about the brand and passionate community of youngsters that he’s created. Before getting the idea for the Ab Boyz, Navarro worked at a warehouse doing shipments for refineries. He was born in Mexico and moved to Houston when he was two, and is “in the DACA thing,” as he puts it. He always had an interest in dance, and when he was growing up, he served as his friends’ main chambelan in many a quinceañera court. Forming the Ab Boyz was a natural progression from there. 

The Boyz’ process starts two to three months prior to the party, when Navarro sets up an appointment with the birthday girl and her family to learn what type of music they want, as well as the outfits and colors they plan to coordinate for the performance. “We like to do what’s trending,” Navarro says. For Alyssa, that meant a juxtaposition between more formal attire and modern pop sounds. But sometimes the boys will get more gritty, sporting cowboy hats and Ariat long sleeves as they perform the traditional Mexican zapateado stomping dance over a booming ranchero or huapango mega-mix. Other quince-goers witness a more slick, gothic version of the Boyz, as in one entrancing number set to “Toxic” by Britney Spears. There are now about thirty dancers in total, ranging in age from thirteen to eighteen. The crew for a particular party rotates depending on the vibe of the quince, and the birthday girl chooses which boys she wants to include in the performance. 

This year, Navarro formed Ab’s Dollz, the female subsection of his quince dance empire. (Alyssa is actually an Ab Doll herself, which made tonight’s performance all the more seamless.) The development makes sense—a quince court usually includes girls as well—and there are already double the number of Dollz as there are Boyz. Every day, a Mexican American girl turns fifteen. It only makes sense that the girls themselves would want to be a part of the action. 

Navarro estimates that Alyssa’s party cost a total of $30,000, factoring in the venue, dress, catering, and of course, the Ab Boyz performance. Quinceañeras are a growing industry. Within recent years, the U.S. has seen the rise of the “quinceañero,” which allows boys to celebrate coming of age with parties just as splashy as their sisters’. There are “quincenegras,” celebrations that infuse hip-hop music and dance into the party to represent Afro-Latina quinceañeras. Muslim versions of the centuries-old cultural milestone have become popular, too. It’s this openness and exploration of identity that has made room for groups like Ab Boyz to flourish as the once-rigid tradition evolves and transforms. 

Days after Alyssa’s party, I pull up to the Ab Boyz headquarters in Pasadena. Upon entering the dance studio, I’m met with a friendly, yet focused, bootcamp-like atmosphere. Tonight, the Ab Boyz and Dollz are practicing for an upcoming quince expo in January, where families will get ideas for decorations, browse dresses, and immerse themselves in the possibilities of what their daughter’s big day could become. Tonight is the first meeting with a new crop of dancers, brought on from auditions in November. The room is packed with roughly fifty young performers eager to prove themselves as the next faces of the brand. 

Thirteen-year-old Eric has puppy-dog eyes and a warm energy. He seems sweet and attentive, having followed the Ab Boyz religiously since first seeing them at a quince two years ago. He taught himself their old choreography, and then decided to try out. “And I actually made it,” he tells me. “The first day that Ab told me to come, I really didn’t know anything. I didn’t know anyone. But after a month of practice, I started getting the hang of it.” 

Leading the practice is Navarro’s 21-year-old brother Chito, whose braces add more charm to his already handsome face. The siblings technically formed the group together, but Chito choreographs and actually performs as an Ab Boy. Although Navarro used to do the choreography, the business took off so rapidly that he now only has time to manage. But the energy changes when he finally arrives, a sense that now they can really get started. He hugs parents, says hi to the boys and girls, then stands in the corner to watch as Chito gets the dancers down to business. 

“Most of us didn’t model or dance before we came,” says sixteen-year-old Estella, who wants to be a NICU nurse when she grows up. “Ab gave us the confidence to be like, ‘Okay, I’m on top of the world, I got it.’ ” Navarro only has two loose requirements for those interested in becoming a part of the crew: they must be young, and good on camera. If you’re tall, that’s a plus, because a lot of girls like that, he says. “I don’t even care if they know how to dance or not. I like to teach them from scratch.”

Right now, Navarro’s main focus is on pumping out short-form content at the events. He eventually wants to do a reality show, or at least put more effort into his YouTube channel, so that fans can get to know the Ab Boyz and Dollz better. In February, he plans to launch his own quince dress company. But no matter where he goes from here, Navarro has already made a mark on a centuries-old tradition: He’s made main characters from what was once known as the supporting role. His dancers aren’t just hype people who are dedicated to the birthday girl on her big day. In fact, when they step into the room, they maybe even outshine her.