"The captain of the ship has to be the last one to leave. You have to serve everyone first."

13 | DERRICK APIGO

Chicago. Onyx. Dance. Alliance.

Otherwise known as “CODA” by people in the dance community, this company has had a lot to celebrate recently. CODA (est. 2007) turned 10 years old last year and has wasted no time in making Spring 2018 one of its busiest seasons yet!

Well damn, CODA. #coocaw 👏👏👏

📸: KAI

Last year, CODA was Cali-bound for Prelude NorCal, where they got in contact with Prelude’s executive producer, Tony Calub. Seems like CODA really hit it off with Tony, because they were officially invited to host Prelude Midwest Dance Competition 2018 this month. It's an exciting shift for the Chicago-based crew since they usually compete at Prelude Midwest themselves (placing every single year since 2013, thank you very much 😉).

The lineup for this year’s competition looks dope, with a lot of amazing visiting crews coming from outside the Chicago area! There's actually a social media challenge for each of the teams participating in Prelude Midwest until Friday, April 13th at 6:00 PM, so be sure to check out CODA's Facebook page for more info! (Special shoutout to ARC out in New Jersey, who will be getting a little feature next week as well! 😉)

As we countdown the days until Prelude on April 14, I sat down with one of CODA’s current directors -- Mr. Derrick Apigo! Derrick admits he's a little sad that CODA isn’t competing in Prelude Midwest this year, but he's also excited for the crew to take on the honor of hosting, as well as for CODA to have some fun creatively with the show’s production.

This was a goofy AF interview, and re-listening to the transcript of the interview I feel like half of the recording was just us laughing. 😆 Hope y’all enjoy this one and learn a few things about just one of CODA’s artistic talents!

"I used to be a little bit of a hater of dance"

Derrick currently directs the Chicago Onyx Dance Alliance, otherwise known as CODA. Even though he’s had quite an extensive dancing history, he initially was a self-described hater. Born in Baguio City in the Philippines, Derrick moved to the Chicago suburbs when he was 13 – yep, he can still speak Tagalog fluently (I’m jelly 😔).

The dancers he found himself around at school tended to be a lot of Filipino-Americans that were just a littleee too extra for Derrick’s taste 😆. But even then, he had this lowkey guilty pleasure of watching ABDC and the Jabbawockeez. I’m telling you, it was that P.Y.T. performance from Season 1 that did it. Derrick catches the dancing wave and enters a dance competition in high school with a bunch of friends – they name themselves....wait for it....the Foot SOLEdiers.

Like soldiers. But like. With soles. SOLEEEEEdierssssssss.

Like soldiers. But like. With soles. SOLEEEEEdierssssssss.

They ended up winning the high school competition and scored a scholarship for Xtreme Dance Force. But to be honest, Derrick wasn’t super serious about dance in high school. For him, it was just a way to chill and have fun with friends.

HYPNOTIQ throwback! Can you find Ish and Derrick?

HYPNOTIQ throwback! Can you find Ish and Derrick?

Derrick was probably more interested in singing than dancing at this point. (He used to sing in high school, and I'm looking for recordings, so hmu if you have footage. 😜). When he went off to Bradley University, the first thing he tried out for was the acapella team. He didn’t make the cut, so trying out for the dance group HYPNOTIQ at Bradley University was kind of an afterthought. (Note: This is where Derrick meet Ish Bew, who founded HYPNOTIQ at the time and later went on to be a key member of the Puzzle League, as well as side projects including Work In Progress).

Derrick does the dancing and auditions. This time, he scores the W. After a couple years, Derrick becomes HYPNOTIQ's director, and also creates his own group along with three other guys. He carries the whole SOLES motif and decides to go with the name Lost SOLES this time.

They became pretty successful, even doing shows like Prelude and Urbanite.

HOT POTATO, HOT POTATO

Throughout college, companies like the Puzzle League, Nonstop, and of course, CODA – they would all come visit Bradley University for shows which gave Derrick exposure to the Chicago dance scene. Anytime that Derrick came back home for the summer or for one of the academic breaks during the year, he would hit up some of the dancers. The first person Derrick reaches out to? Earvin Ortega, who has been involved with CODA like….5ever man.

Derrick: “The first person I ever hit up was Earvin. It was like – ‘Hey, let’s collab on something!’ I just wanted to have fun that summer and just dance and stuff. We ended creating four pieces that one summer. We videotaped those, and then we taught like two classes in the city, and we’re just like hanging around."

*CUE DERK AND EARVVVV TRANSITION SEQUENCE* 😆🙌🙌🙌

Featuring: Keenan Morales, Earvin Ortega, Franz Luigi DeGuzman, Monyett Crump, and Derrick Apigo (📽️: Xavier Cunningham)

 

Derrick: “A funny side note was that Earvin really wanted me to join CODA at the time. I was being kind of a tease. I would go to auditions – like I tried out for Puzzle and CODA every time I was on break and they would accept me at the time as a trainee – but then I would head back off to school so I couldn’t do it." 😅

John: "You tryna play them and yourself." 😂😂😂

Derrick: “Haha - yeah I just wanted to see what my potential was. I’m sure they got sick of me for a minute.”

So Derrick plays this hot potato game for a few years, but eventually, Derrick graduates college and this potato gets passed into Chicago for the long haul lol. Derrick continues his dance career by participating in the summer intensive that BoomCrack! hosted that year, ultimately getting an invite to join their dance team. Yet – something felt off.

Derrick: “I was in BoomCrack! for maybe a season or less. I don’t know. Nothing against BoomCrack! at all, but it wasn’t the fit I was looking for; something was pulling me back.

I think BoomCrack! has some of the best resources for training. They know what they are talking about. But I think at the end of the day, I wanted to dance with my friends and dance with the people I started with. I think I grew as a dancer through my experiences with BoomCrack! a whole lot, but I think CODA was my home and where I grew more as a person."

CODA! For the last time. Again. I think.

So how does Derrick find his way back to CODA? The whole ordeal is something that’s become a little bit of a joke between CODA members. Derrick looks back at the story and laughs – it’s something he still gets flack for time and again.

Derrick: “So. 👏 Funny. 👏 Thing. 👏 Is. 👏 When I left BoomCrack!, I kind of…just got invited to do CODA for Puzzle League’s Masterpiece Dance Competition that summer. I joined halfway through the summer season, which was also the year we placed first! It was the You Got Served set."

John: "Oh you mean the (deep breath)...BREATHE INNNN BREATHE OUTTTTT" 🤣 (Note: for reference, check the vid below.)

Derrick: "Yeah, yeah! So I took a two month break after I left BoomCrack!, and I hit up Earvin like, ‘Yo. Hey. If you guys got a spot, I’d love to dance with y’all again.’

Earvin’s like, 'YO. COME THRU.' 😉

And it was like super chill. Like I just came into practice. 😏 Keenan Morales, Andre "Dre" Patterson, and Teddy Chaves were still directing at the time. We still had a lot of OGs. Like Dee Moore! So blessed to dance with all of them. And then (laughs) I choreographed with Terry Turner – we ended up choreographing that beginning BREATHE INNN BREATHE OUTTT piece. Haha…that’s pretty much it. It was such a weird case for me. People still give me sh*t about it. LIKE LOL YOU AIN’T REALLY GO THROUGH IT."

John: “And now you are directing CODA!” 😮

Derrick: "I know! It sounds horrible, but that’s pretty much how it was, man!"

Growing Pains

John: “So how did you end up knowing CODA was the crew you wanted to vibe with after joining other crews and having other dance experiences?”

Derrick: “Yeah. As much as we’ve grown and become more established, and with all the things we’ve been doing with Julia Yang and Franz DeGuzman directing as well, I think the atmosphere of CODA is still the same. It’s that true genuine feeling in the crew that remains the same. I don’t know how to say it. When you walk in, it’s something that’s unexplainable. Everyone says hi to each other, and we care about each other. It’s something you can’t fake – that sense of family.”

John: "There’s that underlying mutual respect and care for each other. I know that can get more difficult to maintain as you get older and larger as a company."

Derrick: “Yeah – it’s tough. I think that’s why I stuck around with CODA. Not only as a member but as a director that’s our goal – to keep that tightness."

Of course, maintaining that bond comes with its own challenges. Derrick remembers that it was particularly difficult when he first stepped into the director role.

644370_780090895363326_2421132222336027784_n.jpg

John: "Yeah – I’d love to talk more about that. You made a transition from being a CODA member to serving as a director. When did that happen, and what was that shift like?"

Derrick: “I think the process started the summer of 2014. Then, I was like - part of the artistic circle, and then after 2 or 3 seasons, Dre eventually left. Teddy eventually left, too. Franz was the director that was remaining. Before Dre left, he and Franz deliberated on who should fill the director spots, and they picked Julia and I, which at the time – we weren't together. I mean, we were talking, but you know. We weren’t living together or anything yet. 😉 (Note: Ahem - we’ll get to this later, but hey – Julia and Derrick are #couplegoals #powercouple #dancegoals #keoneandmari #allofthat).

I think the biggest challenge transitioning from being a member to a director was the relationship I had with team members prior to becoming a director. I grew up learning and training under some of them, and now I had to direct the same people. I think for some people it rubbed the wrong way. You know what I mean? Like the question is, 'what do I have to offer as a director?'

Julia, Derrick, and Franz at CODA's Ten-Year Showcase #DecadeofCODA

📸: Keith Sunahara

The first two or three seasons I was directing with Julia and Franz, a lot of people moved on from the company. CODA kind of shifted with its membership. We became a little smaller – there were going to be disagreements." 

As with many organizations that get older and larger – dance-related or otherwise – it can be challenging to maintain the same kind of camaraderie that was organically present at the start. Dance groups grow larger than just the 4 or 5 friends having that session in someone’s basement. Leaders have different approaches to dealing with these growing pains, and Derrick remembers struggling to try to please everyone at the beginning.

Derrick: “It was difficult since we were always being compared to the previous generation of CODA's leadership. During our first season as directors, we wanted to please everyone and make everyone happy. That became something that didn’t turn out well for us in the end; we didn’t produce our best work. Even if we tried so hard to please everyone, we didn’t. It was emotionally draining.

So the next season we kind of shifted gears and like reevaluated how we wanted to approach CODA in all aspects – organization wise as well as artistically. To be honest, there was a lot of criticism and a lot of people backed out their support for us because we were taking CODA in such a different direction than what we had done before.

It was tough, and Franz, Julia, and I knew that we had to stick to each other as directors and trust each other and the direction that we were taking the crew in. Even artistically. This was when we did the Camp CODA set. When we first proposed the idea, not a lot of people were super for the idea because it sounded cheesy. Not like the hype, go-off style CODA typically did before. People were uncertain about it… and the three of us had to push through. As long as a majority of our members believed in us and as long as we as directors believed in the vision, then we could make it happen.

It turned out great! We won first place so I mean...😏. I think just believing in each other and sticking with decisions that you’re making is incredibly important. Take responsibility for everything whether you’re been right or wrong. At the core - I think the most important thing is just because we have this title of director now doesn’t mean that we are distant from our members."

Derrick: "This is something that we always to be mindful of: we aren’t above anybody. If anything, as leaders, we should be the last ones to go, you know what I mean? The captain of the ship has to be the last one to leave. You have to serve everyone first."

Aside from CODA, Derrick also dances for the Chicago Bulls' premier dance crew,  312 Crew !

Aside from CODA, Derrick also dances for the Chicago Bulls' premier dance crew, 312 Crew!

John: "Being patient. Like yo – I’m turning the ship, and I hope it gets there. But you gotta be patient and wait it out."

Derrick: “Yeah – there were a bunch of early failures that led to eventual success. I think it's important to let yourself grow without letting comparisons slow you down. It’s hard to stay focused on your own journey sometimes, especially because dance is such an image-based kind of thing, so you eventually compare yourself to others or other teams – like an imposter syndrome sinks in. And you kind of have to train yourself and reassure yourself that you’re okay and you’re dope."

John: "Yeah – like people see Keone and Mari and are like WTF HOW. But you forget they've both been dancing for a while."

Derrick: “Yeah man. And even they acknowledge that they still got hella work to do. For sure. It's interesting to see how the people that we started out with...like they’re retiring LOL. Crap. I’m old. Our youngest member on the team is 16 – she’s 12 years younger than me bro.”

THREE INSPIRATIONS. THREE LESSONS.

Beyond dance, something that resonated with Derrick as he reflected on his dance journey were his biggest inspirations. For him – three women, and three key lessons come to mind.

John: "Who are your biggest influences or inspirations?"

Hard work will always pay off.

Derrick: “I guess I would have to start off with my grandmother aka "Nanay Deb" - she had 5 children and had to raise them all by herself after my grandfather passed away with liver cancer. My grandma worked hard just to barely make ends meet, and eventually put all her kids through college to make sure they had good stepping stones for the future. When my mother graduated from nursing school, she was granted the opportunity to work in America. This left her with the tough decision of leaving me behind, and my grandmother took that responsibility to raise me in my early childhood years.

And raise me right, she did.  I remember when I was young, there was such a bad storm in the Philippines that the wind swung my grandmother in the air as she was walking home from work. Once she landed, she injured her leg severely. They had to install a metal replacement to keep it together. To this day, she remains so active and just can't sit still lol. She taught me to develop good morals, and that hard work will always pay off no matter what.

Stay tough through the hard times and keep pushing through

Another person that has inspires me so much is my mother, Mylene. The man who conceived me left when I was born, so my mother had to take care of me until she had to leave for America to work. Although it was a huge sacrifice to leave her son behind, my mother knew this was an opportunity that could provide a better life for her and her family. It pained her to miss so much of my childhood - the little birthday parties, picking me up from school, or even times when I was sick. She endured all that as she was living in the states all by herself, building the life that she wants for everyone - the ultimate sacrifice. For that, I am forever grateful - nothing that I will ever do will ever be enough to show how much I love and appreciate her. I learned not to back down and to stand up for what is right because of her, in which I have also developed my sharp tongue and stubbornness lol. But most of all she taught me true grit - to stay tough through the hard times and keep pushing through.

Hang on tight, and do not let go.

Over the years, I have slowly developed my personality/individuality through influences from my family and friends. However, out of all the people I've come across, one person has always challenged me the most in all aspects of my life.

Julia was someone I never expected to come across. I thought I had it all figured it out, and then I met this beautiful woman lol. She constantly challenges me mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Julia believed in my untapped potential as a human being. Being with her helped me learn to live my life to the fullest, truly cherishing every moment that we are given. Her faith in God and her genuine love and compassion towards others is so infectious that you can't help but to receive and share it to others as well. Sometimes, I can't believe I was blessed with a woman like her (I lowkey think she's an angel sent from above as cliche as that sounds). I feel my growth not only as a dancer, but also as a human being because of the many lessons that I've learned just by simply being with her - and that is why I love her so much. When you have something like this, consider yourself lucky and make sure to use every fiber of your be the best you can be for them. Hang on tight and do not let go." 

Derrick's relationship with Julia has pushed Derrick to grow both as a director and as an overall individual:

Derrick: "I think our relationship is on the same level at least as Keone and Mari. I would confidently say that. We push each other. Julia's approach to leadership and dance is different than my approach and leadership in dance, but at the end of the day, we all want what is best for the team. We just have different styles. And we butt heads as directors sometimes. We are not just physically invested when we are in the studio, but mentally and emotionally invested also. We care about the people in CODA. We think about it outside of the studio, and sometimes that’s a challenge too. Like there was a point in our relationship where all we talked about was dance, but then it was like – let’s talk about us.

John: "Yeah - like if you take out the dance, what remains? And without that struggle in finding what exactly that is, you can’t progress."

Derrick: "It’s all about compromise. You know? We don’t finalize a decision until we come to an agreement – Franz, Julia, Me – the three of us. And same with relationships in life, you know?"

John: "Yeah the three of y'all." JKJK. 😅

Derrick: "Yeah I’ve learned to listen a lot more and be more patient. Listening to another person's perspective whether you agree or disagree and that’s a challenge in and of itself. But in the end, you do it because you believe its worth it and because you love them. I think it's great. I can’t imagine anyone else by my side in dance and life."

As an individual artist, Derrick is leaning more towards the freestyle scene and learning from that perspective. He recognizes that when he’s in a cypher, it sometimes feels like his moves still feel like choreography, and wants to continue to grow in his freestyle exposure. Yet even beyond his individual journey, he's excited to see how Chicago will grow in the years to come.

Derrick: "I think that’s what’s beautiful about Chicago now. We are starting to create a lot more opportunities for ourselves and I think that there are a lot of great role models that influences and inspire other people to like – pave their own way. There’s Monyett Crump, for example, or outside of dance, I think of Chance the Rapper. It’s like a testament that you don’t need to follow a certain regiment to be successful. You don’t need to go to LA, or New York to make a name for yourself in dance, you know what I mean?

I love it – Chicago is growing bigger and bigger every year. It's just a matter of time. I love and appreciate being a part of that process, and just like seeing it all unfold. Just because I saw where it was before and we’ve come very very far." ⭐