Contemporary Culture from the Bottom Up

Cultural Entrepreneur on the Grind: Diana Pettersen, Co-Founder of Sans Limites Dance

Photo Courtesy of Lindsey Lykowski. Sans Limites Dance. 2013.

Photo Courtesy of Lindsey Lykowski. Sans Limites Dance. 2013.

Culture Grinder is excited to announce our newest series, Cultural Entrepreneur on the Grind, in which we pick the brains of the founders of creative companies in various stages of development. For the first interview in this column, we are honored to present you Diana Pettersen and her nascent, but blooming, dance company, Sans Limites Dance. Read more to find out how Diana is making her dreams as a choreographer come true in one of the toughest cities in the world during one of the toughest economies in ages.

CULTURE GRINDER: When did you know you wanted to start your own dance company?

DIANA PETTERSEN: It happened around the same time that I began loosing interested in performing and more interested in choreography. I knew that goal was no longer to get into a dance company, but to create one.

CULTURE GRINDER: You co-founded Sans Limites Dance with Richard Cramer earlier this year, in 2013, after working together in an off-Broadway production of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by Pipe Dream Theatre. Can you tell us a little more about how you decided you wanted to take this step together?

DIANA PETTERSEN: My interest in dance shifted to choreography at a fairly young age. I find that many dancers live out their dance career by their early to mid 30s and then shift over to choreography after that point. By the age of 20 or 21 I was certain that my passion was for the art of creating of dances, as opposed to the physical art form of dancing. Richard Cramer trained vigorously as a dancer and injured himself quite badly at a young age. Due to these circumstances his focus shifted to choreography, as well. We came to learn these things about one another while backstage during the Pipe Dream production at Theatre Row. The rest, as they say, is history!

Sans Limites Dancers (from left to right): Oscar Santana, Amanda Haskin, Gali Dotan, Daniel Mont-Eton, Lindsey Lykowski, Joshua Howard, and Asami Tomida. 2013.

Sans Limites Dancers (from left to right): Oscar Santana, Amanda Haskin, Gali Dotan, Daniel Mont-Eton, Lindsey Lykowski, Joshua Howard, and Asami Tomida. 2013.

CULTURE GRINDER: Did you find that you had different or similar dance backgrounds? How did you try to bridge any differences in background or vision?

DIANA PETTERSEN: Both Richard and I trained in Ballet at a young age. However, he stayed more in the realm of Ballet as he matured as a dancer while I strayed away from Ballet and focused more in on Modern, Contemporary and Experimental Dance. We definitely do mesh our different backgrounds in dance, but we also don’t. While choreographing our own separate works we stay more in our own genre of movement. We find that this brings more variety to our repertoire. However, Richard and I are currently in the process of creating our first collaborative piece, which will have its world premiere during Sans Limites Dance’s Fall Season. In this work we are definitely bridging our differences, which happens organically via the mere fact that both of our minds/styles are involved in the process.

CULTURE GRINDER: You state that your company is, “bridging the gap between Ballet, Modern and Pedestrian movement”, which I find very interesting; this seems like a great way to bring high dance art forms like Modern and Ballet to the streets, both literally and metaphorically. Can you talk more about how/when/why you decided to incorporate the typically mundane movement of walking with choreographed motion? Were you inspired by urban life as a New Yorker?

Sans Limites Dance Rehearsal Footage for Moving Sculptures
2013 Performance at Brooklyn Wildlife
Music by Violinist Joya Bravo

DIANA PETTERSEN: When I first began choreographing as a freshman at Manhattanville College, the movement I used was very generic dance movement. I would recycle movement that past dance teachers trained me with. That’s what I thought choreography was; re-arranging movement that I had learned as a dancer. One day during a composition course with Ara Fitzgerald, I was told do a ‘signature movement’—my ‘go-to’ dance move so to speak. Then I was told to do the exact opposite. Without even thinking, I stood still and simply reached my hand out. I realized in that moment that no other “dance move” I had ever done before in a dance class has meant as much as extending my arm out and reaching.

Pedestrian, every day, movement is our home base. It is what connects everyone to one another. My main objective is not to impress other dancers and choreographers with crazy complex movements. My main objective is to communicate an idea. I want an audience member who has never taken a dance class in his/her life to see my works and have a clear idea of what I was trying to communicate, instead of getting over-stimulated and confused by generic dance move into generic dance move into generic dance move.

Sans Limites Dancers: Asami Tomida & Oscar Santana. 2013.

Sans Limites Dancers: Asami Tomida & Oscar Santana. 2013.

CULTURE GRINDER: You’ve also recently begun a “Moving Sculptures” series; another dancer/choreographer featured on Culture Grinder, Sera Solstice, had a similar concept of ‘Sculpture in Motion‘ based on her own background as a sculptor before becoming a dancer; what inspired the concept for this series in your dance company?

DIANA PETTERSEN: As a young child, my mother would bring my sister and I to the Metropolitan Museum of Art every Saturday after dance classes at Ballet Hispanico de Neuva York. Edgar Degas’s artwork of ballerinas would always stand out; especially his sculptures. The way he captures beauty in the pedestrian movements that professional dancers make in preparation for their art form is genius. It breaks down the façade of dance only being for the bourgeoisie. Dance needs to be inviting for a wider audience; the “Moving Sculptures” series is our way of doing this. Our “Moving Sculptures” series is a contemporary take on the democratization of the professional dance form. By inserting dancers in unexpected settings, we are breaking down the barrier between high art and life.

CULTURE GRINDER: Your company encourages working with various types of artists, whether writers, musicians, painters etc. Why is this such an important part of your company mission and how do you work towards achieving it?

DIANA PETTERSEN: Art is the abstraction of life. Music is the abstraction of sound. Prose is the abstraction of spoken language. Painting is the abstraction of visual life. Dance is the abstraction of movement.

Art’s goal is to zero in on a certain aspect of every day life and transform it so that it’s larger than life. Using other mediums of art is a wonderful base for inspiration because its goal of abstracting life is the same as ours.

One of our goals is to encourage ‘Artists Supporting Artists’. It is not easy to be a starving artist in this city and without each other’s support the arts would not thrive. The more people involved in a project, the bigger our artistic force becomes.

Sans Limites Dancers: Amanda Haskin & Daniel Mont-Eton. 2013.

Sans Limites Dancers: Amanda Haskin & Daniel Mont-Eton. 2013.

CULTURE GRINDER: What have been the biggest challenges in running Sans Limites Dance thus far?

DIANA PETTERSEN: Time and Money. It has been difficult, but anything worth doing isn’t easy. Because of the support from fans we have been able to push forward financially. We couldn’t be more gracious for the time commitment from our wonderful company members, our technical director Micheal Lounsbery and our costume designer Vanessa Price!

CULTURE GRINDER: What advice would you give to an aspiring dancer or choreographer?

DIANA PETTERSEN: Believe in your goals and make them happen. Your decision to be part of the dance world isn’t rational but it is necessary.

CULTURE GRINDER: What do you wish more people understood about dance?

DIANA PETTERSEN: I wish people understood that DANCE IS NOT A FOREIGN LANGUAGE.  Author James Borg states that 93% of communication is expressed and received through visual cues from our bodies; only 7% is communicated through actual words! The same way that poetry is the embellishment of written language, dance is the embellishment of body language. And since body language is such a prominent form of communication, the embellishment of it—dance—is a lot more accessible than you think.

In a world where facts, whether true or not, are constantly thrown in our faces, it is nice to know that there are outlets in which things are left to interpretation. Dance is one of these outlets. When witnessing a dance work there is no right or wrong. No yes or no. No black or white. The dance just is and you give it meaning.

CULTURE GRINDER: What’s next up for Sans Limites?

DIANA PETTERSEN: We are having our Fall Season on November 15th & 16th (3 Performances) at The Secret Theatre in LIC, New York. We have guest choreographers Charlique Rolle, Janice Rosario & Ayaka Habata as well as guest performances by Link!themovement, Arch Contemporary Ballet & Community Dance Project. We are also producing split-bill performances for other emerging choreographers & companies the same weekend as our Fall Season: Sydney Schiff & Lattice Works DanceSammy J Dance, Abby Price & Shirah Perry, and Newspeak/Kitchen Sink Collective).

Moving forward we are in the works of planning a LIVE Music/Dance Concert with Brooklyn Widlife, a SL Dance Film Festival, Spoken Work/Poetry Slam Dance performance & Visual Art/Dance Collaborative production. All are performances are strides to reach our goal of ‘Artists Helping Artists’. If you are interested in being involved in any of these projects please reach out to us at


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Written by Nicole Casamento

Nicole Casamento is the founder of Culture Grinder.


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