When Nico Warren drums in The Chocolate Nutcracker, he wears a colorful African tunic and matching pants. Talk about scoffing at peer pressure: The St. Pete College freshman used to wear his costume to classes at Gibbs High.
He got ragged on plenty by other guys in school, but donned his African garb with a mix of pride and defiance. "If these people don't want to know about their heritage, I can't do anything about their ignorance," he says. "You can't force knowledge on people about their history and their culture."
Standing in the office of the Enoch Davis Center, Nico wears a long, royal blue T-shirt, calf-length baggy shorts and black Nikes. He's tall and lanky, with sharp features and a thin beard. A black baseball cap sits backward on his head. He smiles easily.
Nico, 18, plays the djembe drum, and is positioned front and center in the percussion ensemble. During rehearsal, as dancers perform solos and group pieces while encircled by their fellow cast members, he walks into the middle and drums, watching each performance with the benevolence of a big brother.
He's been a member of Dundu Dolé and a drummer for The Chocolate Nutcracker since age 10. "My older brother was in Dundu Dolé and I saw him going to shows and traveling," Nico says, "and I said, 'I want to get in there.'
"I started listening to the rhythms and they taught me my history and my heritage. And it taught me discipline. Each rhythm has a specific sound and a specific pattern, and they come together to create a whole."
Warren's experience in the dance troupe and ballet has helped instill in him a sharp Afrocentric consciousness. "He's very political," says Chocolate dancer Lasandra McCrae.
Nico, set to head back to rehearsal, lifts a set of red, gold and green beads that hang around his neck, and declares, "These represent and honor my ancestors."