ABC7 In Your Neighborhood: Old Town School of Folk Music

January 27, 2012 8:03:38 AM PST
Music and dance have been staples in Lincoln Square for more than half a century. The largest community school of the arts in the country is celebrating its 55th anniversary.

The Old Town School of Folk Music starts with toddlers in Wiggleworms, an early childhood music program.

"We bring the kids here because there's a great appreciation of music that the kids get," said grandmother Musette Michael. "Kids get to play with one another, songs. It's a great experience for them."

"Neither his father or I have any music ability so without the School of Music, he wouldn't have any either," said mother Carrie Kempler.

The Wiggleworms classes are a staple at the Old Town School of Folk Music and have a universal reach.

"Malia and Sasha Obama were Wiggleworms," said the school's executive director, Bau Graves. "Mayor Emmanuel's kids were Wiggleworms. I find that as I travel around the city of Chicago, as soon as I mention I'm from Old Town School of Folk Music, people will say 'oh, our kids were Wiggleworms.'

Bau admits the name of the school can be misleading.

"The school's definition of the word 'folk' is extremely elastic," Graves said. "We offer classes in almost any style of popular vernacular music you can imagine, blues and bluegrass and gospel and mariachi."

It also boasts the largest dance program in Chicago, teaching more than 50 different styles of dance. And also, contrary to the school's name, it's not located in the old town neighborhood.

"Old Town School started in 1957 in an Oak Park living room," Graves said. "The school almost immediately opened a space in a former bank on North Avenue in the Old Town neighborhood, hence our name and in 1968 moved to 909 W. Armitage in Lincoln Park."

The school opened a second location in a former library in Lincoln Square in 1998 and just last week expanded again, opening a brand new building directly across the street.

In celebration of its 55th year anniversary, the school is hosting 55 days of special activities, including a celebration of the blues. Most of the events are free.

"We want every person who comes in the door whether they are a total beginner and have never played the first note to a virtuoso, they're going to find a community of people that really value them and want to participate with them," Graves said.

Every Friday night, the Old Town School of Folk Music is hosting a global dance party. There will be dance instruction followed by two hours of music by live band or DJs and open dancing.

For a line-up of performers, visit