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Kenny Ortega

Kenny Ortega was born in Palo Alto, California, and grew up in Redwood City. At an early age he developed an interest in music and dance, earning scholarships to several dance academies in the Bay area. As a teenager, his interest in the arts expanded beyond dance to legitimate theater.

At age 13, Ortega began working as an actor in the local repertory theater which quickly became his passion. While working in high school productions, he was simultaneously a member of the Hyatt Music Theatre in Burlingame, California, and the Circle Star Theatre in San Carlos, where as a member of their company he appeared in such shows as 'Oliver' with Georgia Brown.

In 1968, he enrolled in CaƱada College, majoring in theater arts and dance. The following year he landed the role of George Berger in the San Francisco company of 'Hair.' This was followed by a featured role in 'The Last Sweet Days of Isaac' for the American Conservatory Theatre (ACT) and once again with the role of Berger in the national touring company of 'Hair.' After three years of touring, he returned to the Bay area where he began to work with A&M Records multi-media/recording artists The Tubes. This began a new phase of his career in which he staged and performed for five world tours with that group.

In a Tubes performance at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles, Cher approached Kenny to choreograph her television special. This marked the beginning of a very successful choreography career and a professional relationship with Cher that is on-going, and led to assisting Toni Basil on 'The Rose,' choreographer on 'Xanadu,' starring Gene Kelly and Olivia Newton-John. Ortega credits Kelly with teaching him the art of choreography for the camera.

In the following years he divided his choreography work between television, stage shows, films, and music videos. He has staged and choreographed concert acts for Cher, The Pointer Sisters, Bette Midler, Kiss, Oingo Boingo and Miami Sound Machine, among others. His TV credits include specials for Olivia Newton-John, Cher, The Pointer Sisters, Neil Diamond, NBC's 'Motown Revue' starring Smokey Robinson, and many awards shows including the American Music Awards and the Academy Awards.

Kenny's film credits for choreography include 'One From the Heart' (1982), 'St. Elmo's Fire' (1985), 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' (1986), 'Pretty in Pink' (1986) and the 1987 box office smash 'Dirty Dancing,' among many others.

He was one of the early pioneers in the field of choreographing music videos and worked on such landmark projects as Fleetwood Mac's 'Gypsy' and Billy Joel's 'Allentown.' He went on to work with pop music stars Elton John, Rod Stewart, Diana Ross and Madonna ('Material Girl'), among many others, and has choreographed almost all of Cher's videos including 'We All Sleep Alone,' 'Turn Back Time' and 'I Found Someone,' which he also co-directed. He also choreographed Miami Sound Machine's video 'Comin' Out of the Dark.'

Kenny's debut as a television director came in 1988 with the series 'Dirty Dancing.' In 1990 he directed the pilot and several episodes of 'Hull High,' a program he also co-executive produced and choreographed.

His first feature film directing credit was Walt Disney Pictures live-action musical 'Newsies.'

He has won many awards for his work, including a NARAS Award for 'Material Girl,' MTV Best International Video/Latin for his work with Cheyanne, Golden Eagle Awards for best choreography for 'Dirty Dancing' and 'Salsa,' and the American Dance Honors Award for choreographing 'Dirty Dancing.'

Note: This profile was written in or before 2002.

Kenny Ortega Facts

BirthdayApril 18, 1950 (73)
BirthplacePalo Alto, California, USA

Selected Filmography

High School Musical 3 (2008)
High School Musical 2 (2007)
High School Musical (2006)
Grounded for Life (2001) tv
Gilmore Girls (2000) tv
Ally McBeal (1997) tv
Chicago Hope (1994) tv
Hocus Pocus (1993)
Newsies (1992)
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