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The lowdown on Seattle's most intimate art space

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Photo courtesy of The Lowdown
Photo courtesy of The Lowdown

Just past the chaos and excitement of Broadway on Capitol Hill sits a small venue dedicated to bringing the arts to one of Seattle's most expressive neighborhoods. But if you aren't looking for the Lowdown Ballroom, you might just walk right past it!

Located in the renovated basement of Madeline and Alex Yan's home, it offers a unique performance space for all kinds of artistic talents, since the Yans coverted it in 2016.

Both well known in Seattle's swing dance community, Madeline and Alex had not originally set out to create a venue for the arts. "It started with wanting a garage, because the house did not have a garage originally. We dug out the basement, and because we're dance nerds, we decided to put in a semi-sprung dance floor. We just went hog wild," Madeline explained.

After they had done that, a friend from the swing dance community asked if he could use the space to host weekly dance classes. The request got the couple thinking, and soon the plans to convert their basement and backyard into a ballroom and live-event venue were underway.

A labor of love
The arts have always played a special role in Madeline and Alex's life. "We met dancing," shared Madeline. Alex added, "I started swing dancing in 2002, and she started in 2004. We were friends for a while and then it just evolved." So it only seemed fitting that the couple would create a space for other dancers, fostering the unique passion that led them to each other.

The ballroom began as a venue for dance classes, with a roommate of the Yans teaching tango while another friend offered swing dance lessons. "Wednesday is tango night, and every Thursday is swing dance. [For swing, there are] three different classes: a solo jazz class that's open to all levels — it's independent dance, you don't need a partner; ...beginning lessons, which [are] partnered, but you don't need [to already have] a partner; and then the third is intermediate/advanced, for anyone who has already taken lessons."

In early 2020, Madeline and Alex decided to expand the reach of the ballroom, opening the backyard for live summer performances. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to that, but the ballroom was able to host one event before the city shut down.

"After regulations were lifted, we started doing live shows again. I think we might keep doing them throughout the summer. The outdoor shows are free, but down [in the ballroom] it's mostly ticketed events," Alex explained.

The outdoor concert series has been a massive success so far this summer, featuring local talents like Jeannie Rak, Righteous Sistah, Kevin "Muscle Mouth" Buster, and Mira Dasu & Lamar Lofton.

"Right now we're doing an aggressive push to reach anyone and everyone," Madeline said. "We really want to reflect the character and the history of the neighborhood — that's very important to us. And there are so many groups out there that are underrepresented and not included, and welcoming them is important to us."

The Lowdown Ballroom has hosted several LGBTQ artists and bands, following through with their goal to welcome underrepresented groups. In fact, the first two acts featured in the summer concert series were local LGBTQ artists, and upcoming performer Jeannie Rak (September 4) is also a member of the LGBTQ community.

Arts are for everyone
Breaking into the live-performance business can be stressful, but the ballroom is working to help up-and-comers find space to perform live and perfect their crafts. Every few weeks, the ballroom hosts "salon" nights, where anyone is welcome to take to the stage and showcase their talents, giving new performers the chance to practice in front of a live audience without the high-stakes pressures other venues might demand. "It's so intimate, so community oriented," Madeline explained.

Through these events, the ballroom has been able provide outlets for fans and performers to connect.

Lowdown offers a wide variety of shows. "Our shows are not just jazz. We have singer-songwriters, folk, bluegrass, Americana. So far it's been mostly acoustic," Alex said.

While the venue has mostly booked singers and musicians, they are looking to expand. "In the future, we would love to see more burlesque shows and drag shows. We're open to anything, pretty much."

The venue itself offers a spacious indoor room, big enough for large events and private concerts, as well as anything else patrons might imagine. The outdoor space is just as charming, offering great acoustics and a cozy backyard atmosphere. "We've got this red velvet curtain, amazing backlighting," Madeline pointed out.

"I love nightlife, I think it's the best," she added. "You know, it's a small space, but I've seen what different communities have done with small spaces. They can make magic."

The space is open for all events, as long as they are not illegal or encouraging hatred toward any marginalized communities. The Yans believe "art should be for everybody." Their hope has been that by opening up their home to Seattle's arts community, they will be able to foster growth and creativity for artists and art lovers alike.

The Lowdown Ballroom can be found at 628 11th Ave. E. The next free outdoor concert features Jeannie Rak, a Seattle-based LGBTQ+ musician, on Saturday September 4, from 4 to 7 p.m. Tango lessons are held weekly on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.; swing dance is taught on Thursdays at 6, 7, and 8 p.m. For more information, visit https://www.lowdownballroom.com/.