I went to a Halloween party last week at Alwun House, my favorite community arts enclave in Phoenix. Now celebrating its 35th anniversary, Alwun has provided a venue for thousands of emerging and established visual and performance artists to be seen and encouraged. Alwun House celebrates Phoenix’s cultural diversity and builds a community of openness and tolerance.

Halloween parties at Alwun feature outrageous costumes and original entertainment by dancers, comics, musicians, and artists using every imaginable canvas to explore self- expression. This time, a Celtic dance group called Aretias (Warrior Women) performed a dance based on the choreographer’s experience of her mother’s death. As her mother lay dying, she saw a black crow flying by the window.

The program notes said Morrighan is the Celtic Goddess of Death, Battle and Resurrection. She flies across the battlefields as a black crow, taking the souls of warriors to the afterlife. The dance featured stunning warrior women, some in battle garb; a black-caped crow; and a full-bodied Rubenesque woman wearing a studded, leather bustier and a red string bikini. My first response was to gasp — it was a lot of flesh to unleash — and then I stood in awe at her courage. She danced with joy and abandon. The more she danced, the lovelier she became. She balanced a sword on her head and sensually oozed herself down to the ground. You could tell she loved to move by the joyful spontaneity of her expressions, a warrior queen who said, “Here I am!” Without liposuction, injections, or plastic surgery, she performed beautifully. The crowd went delirious when it was over; I stood for 3 ovations (in part to do penance for my initial swinish chauvinism).

The next day I read about Holley Mangold, a 16-year-old offensive lineman for her high school football team. Actually, Holley is a linewoman, the first girl to play in a high school football game in Ohio. She is 5’9”, 310 lbs, and her coach says she is meaner on the field than her brother Nick (whom he also coached and is now the rookie starting Center for the New York Jets). Off the field, Holley is described as carrying herself with the aplomb of a runway model, with shoulder length hair, burgundy nail polish and the outgoing personality of a cheerleader.

I love these warrior women and am grateful for the reminder that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and even if you don’t love everything you’ve got, you want to love who you are. Alwun House is one of the few places in my town where who you are can be celebrated and appreciated in all its diversity.

Support the Alwun Houses in your communities; they remind us how many ways there are to see beauty.