OAKLEY -- Priya Nykan claps, then taps out a rhythm with her bare feet while she recounts the story of her heritage in dramatic, rapper-style fashion.
Arms extended, she presses middle fingers to thumbs, forming one of the multitude of hand gestures that lend meaning to the narrative. Nykan's long, dark hair swishes and her head seesaws from side to side as if disconnected from the rest of her body.
The gracefulness comes from years of training that also have given the 32-year-old Oakley woman the confidence to give a spur-of-the-moment demonstration of hip-hop natyam.
Uh ... come again?
"It's when Indian classical dance makes love to hip-hop," laughed Nykan, who lays claim to inventing the combination of a dance form that dates back two millennia and '70s-era music that she wants to introduce to East Contra Costa residents along with other styles that are part of her heritage.
She currently can be found practicing at Brentwood's Red Door Studio on Thursdays while waiting for students to discover her.
Nykan, who thinks her classes might be the only ones of their kind in Contra Costa County, also will start offering weekly sessions in classical dance this month at Brentwood Yoga Center; in April, she'll launch a collection of six-week classes through the city of Oakley's recreation division in South Asian fusion, which Nykan describes as "everything from Bollywood to classical to Bhangra," a Punjabi folk dance.
These ones are open to students as young as 4; for those at the other end of the age spectrum Nykan will offer "Rock 'n' World," low-impact exercise featuring basic moves and music the likes of salsa and Elvis.
The daughter of Fijian parents whose roots can be traced to India, the Canadian-born Nykan began studying classical Indian dance at 4.
She focused on Bharata Natyam, the dominant style of classical dance in southern India and the oldest of its eight variations.
At 13, she enrolled in an academy for students pursuing dance as a career even though Nykan says some family members didn't consider it a viable vocation.
Even before graduating six years later, she already was performing in Vancouver theater shows and dance festivals.
An apprenticeship followed in 2006 when Nykan moved to Bangalore, India, where she studied for four months with a guru of classical dance.
She spent several hours a day in private lessons learning new dance patterns while a singer and handful of musicians accompanied her.
Listening to her guru's rhythmic singing reminded Nykan of the hip-hop music she loves -- that of artists such as Lauryn Hill and Bay Area native E-40 -- and upon returning to Canada she adjusted her foot work to the genre's characteristic beat.
Since then Nykan has given a solo performance, appeared in a movie as a backup dancer, and taught at a performing arts school and community center before moving to Oakley with her husband 3½ years ago.
She took a break from dancing to start a family, but now Nykan is trying to re-enter the professional dance scene while attending Los Medanos College; her long-term goal is to earn a doctorate so she can teach dance at the university level.
Since having her two daughters, Nykan has acted and danced in a couple of San Francisco theater productions and introduced students in UC Davis' Middle East/South Asia Studies department to classical and hip-hop nathyam.
For Nykan, one of the appeals of Indian dance is the kind of self-expression it affords.
"For women, especially, it's embracing their sensuality," she said. "If you look at Bollywood (films) they're sexy and glamorous and shaking every part of their body."
Nykan welcomes male students, too, but she has a word of advice for them: "Don't be afraid to do some feminine moves," she laughed.
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.