Kenny Ortega
Birth Date:
Birth Place:
Palo, Alto, California
Famous for:
His work in the Disney Channel Original Movie “High School Musical” (2006)
Show more

High School Musical


“I really liked the idea of young people coming to know their own voice, regardless of outside pressure from peers, teachers, parents and society. There's too much bullying that goes on and that causes kids to back off from new ideas they have about themselves.” Kenny Ortega (about “High School Musical”)

Two-time Emmy Award winning American choreographer and director Kenny Ortega is well known for his work in the Disney Channel Original Movie “High School Musical” (2006) and the installments “High School Musical 2” (2007) and “High School Musical 3: Senior Year” (2008). He won an Emmy Award, an ALMA Award, a DGA Award for “High School Musical” and an additional ALMA Award and DGA and Emmy nominations for “High School Musical 2.” He was also awarded the Jackie Coogan Award at the 2009 the Young Artist Awards. Ortega took home his first Emmy for choreographing the “XIX Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony” in 2002. He also collected three American Choreography Awards for the “XIX Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony,” “Chicago Hope” and the “1996 Olympic Games.”

Multi-faceted Ortega began his career as a stage musical theater performer when he was a teenager before turning to choreography in the early 1980s. He went on to enjoy success as a television and movie director from the early 1990s onward. Films in his resume include “Xanadu” (1980), “Dirty Dancing” (1987), “Salsa” (1988), Newsies” (1992), “Hocus Pocus” (1993), “The Cheetah Girls 2” (2006, TV) and the “High School Musical” franchise, as well as the TV series “Grounded for Life,” “Ally McBeal” and “Gilmore Girls,” among others. Ortega has choreographed world tours and/or music videos for artists such as Michael Jackson, Cher, Madonna, Barbra Streisand, Gloria Estefan, Kiss, The Tubes, and Diana Ross.

Moviegoers will see his directing effort in the remake “Footloose,” which is slated for a 2010 release.

Teen Actor

Childhood and Family:

Kenneth John Ortega, professionally known as Kenny Ortega, was born on April 18, 1950, in Palo, California. He was raised in Redwood City. Young Kenny developed a fascination with dance and music and later won scholarships to many dance academies in the Bay area. By the time he was a teenager, he had developed an interest in theater. He began pursuing an acting career when he was 13 years old.

Kenny graduated from Sequoia High School in Redwood City, CA. He then studied dance and the theater arts at Cañada College.

Kenny has Yorkshire Terrier named Manly.

Dirty Dancing


13 year old Kenny Ortega kicked off his acting career with a local theater and by appearing in school productions. He also became a member of the Hyatt Music Theatre in Burlingame and the Circle Star Theatre in San Carlos, CA. With the latter company, Ortega acted in shows like “Oliver,” with Georgia Brown.

When he was 19 years old, Ortega was cast in the role of George Berger in the San Francisco company production of “Hair” (1969). He followed it up with a small role in the American Conservatory Theatre production of “The Last Sweet Days of Isaac” before reprising his role of George Berger in the National Touring Company of “Hair.” Returning to the Bay area after three years of touring, Ortega worked with the rock group The Tubes. He performed with the group from 1975 to 1978 and also served as a choreographer from 1975 to 1985.

In a Tubes performance, Ortega caught the attention of Cher, who adored his work and invited him to choreograph for her in a television special. The collaboration would continue for a number of years with Ortega choreographing some of Cher's concerts and music videos. He later also staged and choreographed concert shows for other artists like The Pointer Sisters, Kiss, Oingo Boingo, Bette Midler, and Miami Sound Machine, and worked on TV specials for Olivia Newton-John, Neil Diamond, NBC's “Motown Revue” starring Smokey Robinson, and a number of award shows such as the Academy Awards and the American Music Awards. On the music video front, he choreographed top singers like Madonna, Michael Jackson, Elton John, Diana Ross, Rod Stewart, and Billy Joel.

It was in the late 1970s that Ortega merged into the film industry by assisting choreographer Toni Basil for the dramatic musical “The Rose” (1979), starring Bette Midler. He went on to served as choreographer in the musical “Xanadu” (1980), which starred Olivia Newton-John. From then onward, Ortega found himself choreographing such films as Francis Ford Coppola's “One from the Heart” (1982), “St. Elmo's Fire” (1985), and the John Hughes films “Pretty in Pink” and “Ferris Bueller's Day Off “ (both 1986), in which he also made his debut as a second unit director. He also worked on the hit “Dirty Dancing” (1987), which starred Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze. For his work in “Dirty Dancing,” Ortega won a Golden Eagle Award in the category of Best Choreography and the American Dance Honors Award.

In 1988, Ortega made his big screen acting debut in “And God Created Woman,” where he worked with Rebecca De Mornay, Vincent Spano and Frank Langella and also served as a choreography consultant. He also made his debut as an associate producer with the independent film “Salsa,” in which he also served as second unit director and choreographer and performed the song “Good Lovin'” for the soundtrack. For his choreography effort, Ortega netted his next Golden Eagle Award. Talking about “Salsa,” he stated, “Because of the success of ‘Dirty Dancing’ on VH-1, we brainstormed and decided on a movie with salsa. There is a connection between salsa and romantic relationships like trust, surrender, patience, and respect. All those are elements for a great story.”

Ortega debuted as a television director in 1988 with the television series adaptation of “Dirty Dancing.” He directed two episodes called “Walk Like a Man” and “Book of Love.” He then helmed two episodes of the Emmy nominated series “Hull High,” including the pilot, and jointly nabbed a 1991 Emmy nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Main Title Theme Music for his choreography work on the show. Ortega then worked on the Walt Disney Pictures live action musical “Newsies” (1992). The big budget film was considered a commercial disaster and Ortega was nominated for a Razzie Award for Worst Director. He returned to the director's chair a year later with the children's film “Hocus Pocus,” starring Bette Midler.

Ortega would go on to direct several television projects throughout the 1990s, including the short-lived drama series “Fame L.A.” (1997) and two episodes of “Chicago Hope” (1998-1999). Also serving as choreographer for the David E. Kelley hit series, he netted a 1998 American Choreography for Outstanding Achievement in Television – Episodic. Ortega picked up another American Choreography award for his work in the 1996 Olympic Games.

After “Chicago Hope,” Ortega gained an additional boost with his work on such popular television series as FOX's “Ally McBeal” (3 episodes, 2001-2002) and the WB's “Gilmore Girls” (12 episodes, 2002-2006). He received his next Emmy nomination for his choreography effort in the “Grounded for Life” episode “Mrs. Finnerty, You Have A Lovely Daughter” (2001), which he also directed. Eventually, the accomplished choreographer picked up the Emmy statue in 2002 thanks to his work with the “XIX Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony,” in which, also as a director, he jointly received a nomination for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special.

In 2006, Ortega enjoyed a big break as director and choreographer with the Disney Channel Original Movie “High School Musical,” which starred Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Tisdale. Released on January 20, 2007, the musical went on to become the most successful movie ever produced by DCOM and won many awards and nominations, including two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Children's Program and Outstanding Choreography, which he shared with fellow choreographers Charles Klapow and Bonnie Story. As the show's director, Ortega was handed a 2007 ALMA for Outstanding Director - Television Series, Mini-Series, Television Movie, a 2007 Directors Guild of America for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Children's Programs, and an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special. Also in 2006, Ortega directed Raven-Symoné, Adrienne Bailon and Sabrina Bryan in the musical comedy Disney Channel sequel “The Cheetah Girls 2.”

Ortega resurfaced the following year with “High School Musical 2.” Premiering on August 17, 2007, the sequel became the highest rated Disney Channel Movie at the time of its airing. “High School Musical 2” brought Ortega a 2008 ALMA for Outstanding Director of a Made-for-TV Movie, an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Choreography, and a DGA nomination for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Children's Programs.

2008 saw Ortega direct the feature film “High School Musical 3: Senior Year” (also a choreographer). Grossing over $80 million worldwide, the movie currently holds the record for the highest grossing musical in its opening weekend. In 2009, Ortega was handed the Jackie Coogan Award from the Young Artist Awards for his work in the “High School Musical” films.

Ortega is set to return to the director's chair for “Footloose” (2010), a remake of the 1984 Herbert Ross film of the same name. Apart from his commitment to “Footloose,” Ortega is working with Michael Jackson in his much-anticipated tour, “This Is It,” which is scheduled to begin on July 8, 2009, at the O2 Arena in London.


  • Young Artist: Jackie Coogan Award, For the “High School Musical” films, 2009

  • ALMA: Outstanding Director of a Made-for-TV Movie, “High School Musical 2,” 2008

  • ALMA: Outstanding Director - Television Series, Mini-Series, Television Movie, “High School Musical,” 2007

  • Directors Guild of America (DGA): Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Children's Programs, “High School Musical,” 2007

  • Emmy: Outstanding Choreography, “High School Musical,” 2006

  • American Choreography: Career Achievement Award, 2004

  • Emmy: Outstanding Choreography, “XIX Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony,” 2002

  • American Choreography: Outstanding Achievement in Television - Variety or Special, “XIX Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony,” 2002

  • American Choreography: Outstanding Achievement in Television – Episodic, “Chicago Hope,” 1998

  • American Choreography: Outstanding Achievement in Television - Variety or Special, For the “1996 Olympic Games,” 1997

Show Less
Kenny Ortega Directing Disney Channel's First-ever Live-action Film
SP_COP - December 13, 2013 -
Filmmaker Kenny Ortega has been tapped to direct the first-ever live-action film for U.S. network the Disney Channel.Descendants will feature the children of Disney's most infamous villains, including...
© Retna
© Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Over four years after his passing, Michael Jackson's wrongful death trial is now underway against concert promoter AEG Live.According to the family's complaint, the company behind the King of Pop's 5...
© Retna
© Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
© Retna
© Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
© Retna
© Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures