EAST NEW YORK — Jazalee Sircus grew up surrounded by music and dance.
Her mother, a Cuban immigrant, was a folklore dancer first and a ballerina second. Her father was an Afro-Cuban dancer. They met as professional dancers at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Devoted members of the company, they performed in shows throughout the city.
Sircus' mother was diagnosed with cancer shortly after her daughter's birth. By the time Sircus was 5 years old, her mother, at age 23, was dead.
"I have very few memories of her," said the East New York resident. "I remember her on her hands and knees cleaning the floor. I remember her laying under a purple canopy in her bed, and I remember her dancing."
Following in the tradition of both her parents, Sircus is also an Afro-Cuban dancer — though she dances differently than most. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth, she uses a wheelchair.
Sircus will soon perform on a stage herself for the first time after a lifetime of dancing in her wheelchair. On June 15 she debuts in Rave! with The Infinity Dance Theater. She always wanted to be a performer, like her late parents, and now she will be.
Her father taught her to move to Cuban beats at a young age. As a toddler she would dance lying on the floor. Later she danced on her knees. By the time she was 9, she would pull herself up to her chair, hold onto the back of it, and use it as a dance partner.
Sircus remembers her father teaching her to spin.
"I told him I couldn’t do it," she said. "He told me to go halfway and he would meet me there and help me back."
Eventually Sircus learned to spin and to dance the Salsa, Merengue and Cha-Cha-Cha.
Sircus danced with her father for the last time when she was 17 at her cousin’s wedding, as the whole dance floor turned to watch them.
Her father had already started chemotherapy. He died a few months later.
With both of her parents gone, Sircus found it hard to continue to dance.
As the years passed, she lived with her grandmother, graduated from high school, took a job working with young people who had cerebral palsy, got married to a young Puerto Rican singer, and eventually moved to Florida.
All the while, not dancing made her feel distant from her parents and from her Cuban identity.
Then, two years ago, Sircus' husband passed away from complications of a serious infection.
Before he died, he made Sircus promise to dance. She moved back to New York with her dog, a Maltese named Bella, and decided to look for a dance community.
She said it was hard to find a dance company where she could take classes.
"I called more than a few places," she said. "No one had spots for dancers with disabilities."
Eventually she found the Infinity Dance Theater on the Upper West Side.
Run by Kitty Lunn, who became paraplegic when she fell down the stairs preparing for her first Broadway show, Infinity features dancers with and without disabilities.
Lunn has created modern dance and ballet choreography that incorporates the use of wheelchairs.
The company has performed in Kennedy Center, Symphony Space and the New Amsterdam Theater in New York, as well as traveling abroad to perform in Italy and Scotland. Sircus is excited for her first performance with the company.
She is also happy to be dancing again.
"I finally remembered," she said. "Dance is in my blood and it is what makes me my parents' daughter."
Sircus is performing Ravel! with Infinity Dance Theater on June 15 at La Guardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts at 100 Amsterdam Ave. in Studio 806 at 7 p.m.