Breaking the Silence

By Blake Pinto

Arielle Dance, Ph.D., is using her education to challenge taboos around women’s health and mindfulness in the workplace.

Mind-Body Medicine alumna Arielle Dance, Ph.D., has long been an advocate for women’s health.

She’s served as a doula, supporting and assisting women before, during, and after the birthing process. She has helped fight cancer through her work as a volunteer, intern, and now manager at the American Cancer Society (ACS). And she has dedicated countless hours to researching innovative techniques that can ease the physical and mental pain caused by endometriosis, a disease she was diagnosed with at 15 years old.

Through it all, she’s striven to break down the stigmas that surround unconventional treatments and preventative care.

“I’ve always had women coming to me and asking about my research, or what types of breathing exercise might be able to help them with a certain issue,” Dr. Dance says. “I will get text messages from someone asking if I will reach out to someone else they know, whether it be their co-worker, or cousin, or friend who needs help.”

After earning her master’s degree in women’s health, Dr. Dance chose to continue her education at Saybrook University because it was the only graduate school she found willing to support her unconventional research interests. In 2015, her choice paid off: she was awarded the Herbert Spiegel Scientific Poster Award for her research poster titled “The Utilization of Hypnosis, Hypnotherapy, and HypnoBirthing for Childbirth and Labor.”

Throughout her time at the Saybrook, she continued to study how specific relaxation techniques including meditation, deep breathing, and guided imagery could positively affect different aspects of women’s health—specifically endometriosis, which often results in infertility.

Today, she finds that her research continues to attract a diverse range of women seeking to learn more about her nontraditional methods of treatment.

“Besides my full-time job, I am balancing roles as a doula and unofficial consultant,” Dr. Dance says. “Because of my final dissertation on endometriosis, I have found a lot of people reaching out to me specifically related to their pain and how they can cope with their pain and infertility. I have begun to do less work with women who are having babies and more with women who are trying to have babies, who can’t have children or are dealing with pelvic pain. It’s been a unique group of women all in different phases.”

Dance has also used her education to help transform the culture in her day-to-day work at the ACS. She has begun integrating techniques she learned during her time at Saybrook to increase mindfulness in the workplace, where she manages a team of employees. She recalls how she was initially told by colleagues and friends to stay away from using words like meditation in corporate settings because the way some people may react to the terminology, “Instead, they might prefer something like ‘stress management techniques’,” she says.

But after attending a management academy that called for bringing more mindfulness to the workplace, she saw an opportunity to begin sharing some techniques with her staff.

“It’s definitely something that is beginning to change,” says Dr. Dance, joking that as soon as people heard that Google was using it to increase productivity in the workplace it became much more acceptable. “So I took that opportunity to begin shifting the language and introducing some of the skills I had learned, and it has worked out really well.”

She now routinely begins staff meetings with mediation. She also uses aromatherapy and dim lighting in her office to help her begin each day. “Before they even knock on my door, everyone knows I’m meditating first thing when I walk in.”

Down the road, she hopes to use her research and experience to possibly begin her own business focused on coaching and advising women who are struggling with health concerns. Until then, she is committed to bringing awareness to the issues she is passionate about by speaking up.

“My degree from Saybrook is kind of unconventional,” Dr. Dance says. “And what I am doing is unconventional. My original research is still kind of stigmatized because it is very much about every female topic possible, and every taboo topic that a woman could talk to a male-identified person about. But it is important that we continue to talk about these issues so we can bring the pain that so many people are experiencing to the surface, and then work to help them heal.”