Friends ballet director leaves university; future of Nutcracker uncertain

Stan Rogers has directed the Friends University ballet program for 30 years. He plans to retire this month, university officials said.
Stan Rogers has directed the Friends University ballet program for 30 years. He plans to retire this month, university officials said. File photo

The founder and director of Friends University's ballet program — the man behind its beloved annual production of "The Nutcracker" — will leave the university this month, officials said Thursday.

Stan Rogers, who started the ballet program with Sharon Rogers three decades ago, "has announced his retirement" to take effect after the Friends commencement on May 12, said Gisele McMinimy, spokeswoman for the university.

"We're very appreciative of how tirelessly he has worked to build a wonderfully high-quality dance program," McMinimy said. "He's just done a great quality job. And so, I think it's at this point that he's decided it's time to move on to other things."

Stan Rogers confirmed his impending departure.

"I am leaving the university," he said Thursday. He declined to comment further on the situation or the timing of his retirement.

McMinimy would not say whether Sharon Rogers, an associate professor of dance at Friends, is planning to remain at the university. Sharon Rogers is Friends' ballet mistress and also runs a ballet school for children.

"Sharon's situation is still really kind of fluid, from what I understand," McMinimy said. "It is still a little early to tell what's going to happen with her."

Sharon Rogers could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Natives of Arkansas, Stan Rogers and Sharon Rogers were married when they started the program at Friends in 1988. The program offers the only four-year ballet degree program in Kansas.

The Rogerses, who still run the school together even though they are no longer married, are known for their high-quality, professional productions, including an annual production of "The Nutcracker" that plays to sold-out crowds each holiday season. Stan Rogers has directed the production for 26 years.

McMinimy, the university spokeswoman, said Friends plans to continue its ballet degree program.

"We are going to launch a search immediately to find a faculty member to continue the excellence of that dance program," she said. "We are very much planning to hire someone new."

She could not say, however, what will happen with "The Nutcracker," which has become a tradition in the Wichita dance community.

"There are conversations ongoing about that, but no decisions have been made whether that will continue or not," she said. "That's still a bit fluid as well."

Courtney Miller, a senior in the Friends ballet program, said she was saddened to hear that Stan Rogers will leave the university.

"Stan is someone that has poured his life into his work. That is very obvious to me and to the other dancers as well," said Miller, a native of Prosper, Texas, who will graduate next week.

"Stan is definitely going to be missed in the ballet department, and the university has big shoes to fill."