Peru teen closes out an era on Franco Center stage

Jun. 14—LEWISTON — For Christoph Kroger and his siblings, dancing is a family business.

The 17-year-old from Peru performed in his final recital with The Dance Center on Sunday evening in the auditorium of the Gendron Franco Center at 46 Cedar St. He is the youngest of nine siblings, all of whom performed for The Dance Center and other dance companies throughout the state.

“It’s funny to watch because when I came back from college, he was a little guy,” said Amelia Pullen, a teacher and choreographer for the Auburn-based studio. “Now here he is, a full grown man, graduating.”

Prior to taking over the business from her mother in 2020, Pullen studied at Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi, around the time Kroger began dancing.

Waiting in the wings sporting green tights, Christoph was admittedly nervous but optimistic. “I’m excited for everything else (in my life) to come but nervous to leave all my friends,” he said.

Although some of the family is scattered across the country, those in Maine gathered for their brother’s final performance.

“It’s almost like the end of an era, I guess, since he’s the last of us to go through The Dance Center,” Brennan Kroger, 31, said. “I’m looking forward to seeing the culmination of all of these years of effort and practice and hard work,” he said.

“I’m really excited. It’s sad that he’s finishing up, I really credit his progress as a dancer,” Gabriella Kroger, 24, said. “It’s a big sister moment for me.”

The first of the Kroger dancing troupe to step on stage was Mara, the eldest, who asked her parents to enroll her in ballet classes at age 10. Her sister and seven brothers who followed took after her, performing in a variety of styles such as modern, tap, jazz, and hip-hop, as well as ballet; their names popping up in recital programs for over 20 years.

“It’s been kind of exciting over the past several years watching ‘The Nutcracker’ performances that have been done at the Franco Center, knowing that many of the lead performances have been my sons and being impressed, like ‘Wow, I didn’t know my sons could dance like that.’ I’m very proud of all of them,” their father, John Kroger, said.

According to collected demographics and statistics of dancers in the US, roughly 79% of ballet dancers are women. But that reality did not deter John or his sons.

“It’s what they like to do,” their father said. “Growing up I remember watching Mikhail Baryshnikov dance — and he made a couple movies — knowing that whatever the stereotypes of dancers are, they’re strong and athletic people, and to be able to do what they do they have to be in very good athletic shape and I know my sons are all very athletic and very serious about taking care of their bodies to be able to do the things they do,” he said.

“I never felt weird because when I started I was young enough that I really didn’t think about it at all, and now it’s just — I dance. It’s a part of me,” brother Nicholas Kroger said.

Christoph and his siblings were home-schooled by their father, a family physician at Swift River Family Medicine in Rumford, and his wife, Christina, both of whom attended Bates College in Lewiston. All of the Kroger siblings have gone on to pursue their education and careers, with Christoph enrolled in the electricians program at Eastern Maine Community College for the fall.

But that doesn’t mean that his dance career is completely over.

“I was planning on taking a few dance classes while I was in college just because it’s one of my passions. I grew up on it and, for me, it’s a way to express myself. I just love doing it and it makes me feel confident in myself and it’s a lot of fun to do,” he said.

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