Kenneth John Ortega (born April 18, 1950) is an American producer, director and choreographer. He is best known for directing the films Newsies (1992), Hocus Pocus (1993), the High School Musical trilogy (2006–2008), Michael Jackson's This Is It (2009) and the Descendants trilogy (2015–2019). Ortega has choreographed films including St. Elmo's Fire (1985), Pretty in Pink (1986), Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986), Dirty Dancing(1987) and the Descendants series. He has also directed multiple concert tours, including tours for Cher, Gloria Estefan and Michael Jackson.
Ortega was born in Palo Alto, California, the son of Madeline, a waitress, and Octavio "Tibby" Ortega, a factory worker. Both of his parents were also born in Palo Alto, though his paternal grandparents were Spanishimmigrants. He attended Sequoia High School in Redwood City, California, where he was a cheerleader.
Initially known for working with dancer and choreographer Gene Kelly on the film Xanadu, Ortega went on to choreograph the dance for the Menudo video "Hold Me", as well as the 1987 film Dirty Dancing, and has won awards for choreography in music videos, such as Madonna's "Material Girl". He also worked with The Tubes on their stage shows and directed the video for She's a Beauty.
Ortega directed Billy Squier's "Rock Me Tonite" video, which is often cited as the worst music promo clip ever made and has been blamed by Squier for killing his career. Together with Michael Jackson, he created and designed the Dangerous World Tour (1992–1993) and the HIStory World Tour (1996–1997). He has also choreographed events ranging from Super Bowl XXX, the 72nd Academy Awards, the 1996 Summer Olympics (Atlanta) and the 2002 Winter Olympics (Salt Lake City).
In addition, Ortega has directed and choreographed High School Musical, High School Musical 2, and High School Musical 3: Senior Year, as well as The Cheetah Girls 2.
In May 2009, Ortega began work on the scheduled Michael Jackson 50-date This Is It concerts, which was cancelled subsequent to Jackson's sudden death. He directed the concert film Michael Jackson's This Is It which was put together from rehearsal footage recorded at the Los Angeles Forum and the Staples Center. The film was released on October 28.
Ortega directed the Michael Jackson Public Memorial at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, which was broadcast live on several networks on July 7, 2009. It reached a television audience of 31 million in America, and more than 1 billion worldwide and via the internet. At the end of the service, he introduced a rendition of Jackson's 1985 charity single "We Are the World" created for the This Is It concerts, featuring Jackson's backing singers on lead vocals with his dancers performing around them.
He was set to direct the 2011 Footloose remake, but dropped out in October 2009 due to differences with Paramount over the budget and tone of the film. Ortega was also hired to direct a film adaptation of the Broadway musical In the Heights for Universal, but the studio dropped the project in 2011 due to budgetary and casting issues.
On August 9, 2011, it was announced that Ortega will direct a remake of Dirty Dancing, a project that was later postponed.
On May 12, 2014, Ortega guest-judged on the 18th season of Dancing with the Stars during the semifinals.