Gotta Kick It Up! has always been one of my favorite Disney Channel Original Movies. I grew up taking dance classes of all kinds and loved seeing the dance team in action throughout the film. Writers include Meghan Cole, Nancy De Los Santos-Reza, Tom Musca, Stu Krieger, and director Ramón Menéndez. Set in Southern California, the DCOM features a predominantly Latin American cast, with Camille Guaty as Daisy and America Ferrera as Yolanda leading the group. The girls and their classmates don’t gel with their new teacher, Ms. Bartlett (Disney Broadway legend Susan Egan). She has entered the field of education because her dot-com job went under (such a 2000s detail!).
This storyline was inspired by writer and co-producer Meghan Cole’s experiences working for Teach for America. Cole began a dance team at her Huntington Park, California, middle school. She noticed a lack of representation in the programming her students were watching on TV at the time. “I was very aware that all the characters were white kids; no one looked like them,” she explained to The New York Times. Cole was eager to avoid stereotypes and shine a positive light on Latina kids; the characters in Gotta Kick It Up! were based on her students. The Times noted that writer Nancy De Los Santos-Reza added the iconic sí se puede line, which the character Marisol shares with the whole dance team. I learned from writer Alicia Ramírez that the phrase came from civil rights leader Dolores Huerta, who advocated for farmworkers’ conditions and rights. She worked closely with Cesar Chavez, but per NPR, was hardly his sidekick. In the face of no se puede (no you can’t) in Arizona — where simply saying the words strike or boycott could land someone in prison — Huerta led the rallying cry of sí se puede (yes I can), which became an immigrant rights slogan.
Of course, this movie takes on a life of its own beyond its inspirations. Daisy Salinas matures considerably in that she discovers her passion for dance and is visibly moved by the opportunities she earns with her art. She has the chance to apply for a performing arts academy scholarship and bonds with Ms. Bartlett over the weight of life decisions. It should be acknowledged that Ms. Bartlett might have had more opportunities and resources as a young woman in the past than Daisy does in the present of the film. Ms. Bartlett had secured her spot at Julliard, and her own insecurities and unsupportive parents contributed to her not completing a degree there. However, the emotionally complicated dance teacher gradually learns the importance of lifting up her group and humbling herself. She really feels like a part of the team as the film progresses.
I spoke about this movie on the incredible Pop Capsule Podcast and discussed the dance auditions montage with co-hosts Evan and Mallory. Disney Channel is great at audition scenes, and this one was a slam dunk four years before High School Musical. Daisy doesn’t get to audition since she misbehaved and danced in class, but the other main girls display their flair and show lots of room for improvement when they try out. These auditions take place in the school’s auto shop garage, since the basketball team and coach/principal Zavala took up the gymnasium. With their music playing from a car stereo, Marisol performs a traditional dance with a lovely flowing skirt, Esmeralda pours out her heart in a lyrical number, Yolanda boogies with a few strategic movements, and Alyssa goes full-on ’50s with all the personality to match.
As the dancing improves, the girls naturally place higher in their competitions, and they build a confidence and respect for one another that truly inspires me. I have a core collection of DCOMs that fill me up with the best memories and lessons, and I hope this movie does that for you.