Merchant Stories is a series about the people who start small businesses, and why. Today’s story is about Jazz Inc, a Lindy Hop & Jazz collective started by Sinclair Ang.
Personal tragedy led Sinclair to realize that ‘life is short’. He struck out on his own to pursue jazz, and he has never looked back.
When Sinclair met Lindy Hop
Sinclair still remembers the first time he saw somebody dance to jazz music. It was 1998, and Greg Chako’s World Band was playing at Tower Records.
It was love at first sight. The performers all looked so happy. The dance seemed light and carefree. This was like nothing he had ever seen before.
He asked around – the style of dance was called “Lindy Hop” – and quickly signed up for classes.
At the time, Sinclair was 24, and he loved listening to jazz music. He had won a prestigious scholarship to study Literature and Theatre, immersing himself in art and culture, and was serving his scholarship bond as a teacher. Dance was an art form he never really “got” – until now. Lindy Hop combined dance and jazz music in a way that fascinated him.
In less than two years, he went from taking his first Lindy Hop class to teaching his first class as a Lindy Hop Teacher. During the day, he would work as a schoolteacher, and once a week in the evenings, he would teach Lindy Hop. He didn’t make much money teaching dance, but he didn’t care — he was enjoying himself too much.
A young Sinclair (in black) leading a class. Looks pretty fun! (Jazz Up SG)
Personal tragedy changed the course of his life
Three years later, Sinclair’s world came crumbling down. He lost both his parents. A close personal friend passed away. The personal tragedies hit him hard.
In the middle of his grief, he realized: life is short.
Sinclair decided to pursue Lindy Hop, with what time he had left. Life is short. Too short to finish serving out his bond. He decided to leave teaching and break his scholarship bond.
A lot of people thought he was crazy. Breaking the bond meant having to pay a massive financial penalty. It meant giving up his career prospects. It meant foregoing his generous salary as a teacher to “pursue his passion”.
Sinclair didn’t care. He had made up his mind. At the age of 30, Sinclair started over from zero.
Doing what he could to pay the bills
Overnight, Sinclair went from having a stable salary to a few hundred dollars a month. His hobby became his main source of income. It was not enough for him to live on.
To pay the bills, he also took on consulting work in the education industry. Sinclair felt unsatisfied. This wasn’t why he quit his job. He wanted to support himself by teaching more Lindy Hop classes. He also wanted to pursue other aspects of jazz.
For four years, he taught at a dance studio, once a week. He tried to work out a compromise, but couldn’t make it work with the dance studio. He decided he needed to start his own dance studio.
Once again, Sinclair left to start over from scratch. This time, he would be running his own dance studio, his own small business: Jazz Inc.
Going Solo with Jazz Inc
Starting Jazz Inc meant that Sinclair could chart his own course. He could teach several classes a week to support himself financially. He could also pursue things outside what a dance school would focus on, like starting a jazz band and giving talks on Jazz History.
The name, “Jazz Inc”, came from a performance he put together for the 2007 National Day Parade, featuring local cabaret trio Dim Sum Dollies, as well as a group of dancers and musicians. It wasn’t pure Lindy Hop or jazz, it was a pleasing mix of different styles and elements. That was what he was after.
In 2008, Sinclair started Jazz Inc to pursue his passions – but the first few years were a real struggle.
Sinclair in motion. (Jazz Inc FB)
Paying his dues
Getting Jazz Inc off the ground was difficult. Jazz Inc was competing with more established dance studios, but starting with no students, no marketing, and no reputation.
To save on rent, he rented space from a kids’ dance studio that wasn’t using the space in the evenings. He taught every class. He handled all the business operations himself. Classes were much smaller, an average of six students each. Sinclair gave his best for every student, every dollar.
To get the name of Jazz Inc out there, Sinclair needed to ‘pay his dues’. He needed to do the work now so he could succeed later. That meant taking every gig that came up. He performed at small festivals and corporate events. He charged less. He took on gigs others had turned down.
To supplement his income, Sinclair also taught kids in schools and gave talks about the history and culture of jazz. It was difficult, but he knew he needed to pay his dues.
Tough as it was, Sinclair always gave his best effort, professionally and personally. He was nice to everyone, even when he didn’t need to be. Luckily, being nice would soon pay off.
Sinclair, giving his best at a Swing Kids workshop in Hong Kong (Jazz Inc FB)
Learning to run a business
Soon, word-of-mouth began to spread about Sinclair, his personality, and his passion for jazz. His students recommended Jazz Inc to their friends. Paying his dues paid off. He became a regular feature at a major dance festival in Singapore, giving workshops and performances every year. He collaborated with theatre groups and worked with modern street dancers. Slowly, the name Jazz Inc was getting out there.
Sinclair showing his moves at the local dance festival in 2015. (Jazz Inc FB)
Being nice also paid off as Sinclair was invited to teach abroad. Tourists and travelers who came through Singapore raved about Sinclair and fun classes. Festivals and events began to invite him abroad to teach. Sinclair has since taught in over 20 countries across Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
He also learned to think like a businessman. Sinclair used to pause Jazz Inc classes while he was teaching abroad. Eventually, he began to mentor student teachers to take over classes while he was away. These days, Sinclair has a team of teachers who keep classes going, even if Sinclair is not around.
Sinclair and the Jazz Inc teachers sharing a meal to start the year off. (Jazz Inc FB)
Living the life he wants, pursuing jazz.
These days, Jazz Inc is in full swing. Sinclair has worked with the major dance festival for the past ten years. He is still regularly invited to teach abroad at festivals. When Covid-19 hit, Sinclair moved classes online, but he did not compromise on the quality of his teaching. On the contrary, Sinclair now spends more time teaching. His students video themselves dancing, and he reviews the videos giving each and every student personalized feedback. Just like before, Sinclair is paying his dues and fighting for every student.
Sinclair in collaboration with a local theatre company. (Theatreworks)
It took Sinclair five long years learning all he could, but he put together his own jazz band, the Rhythmakers. The band performs jazz in a style that’s perfect for dancing, and Sinclair performs with them as a vocalist. Sinclair also continues to give talks about jazz history and culture and even ran a workshop for gin-and-jazz appreciation.
Sinclair performing with the dancers he taught and the band he put together
Jazz Inc celebrates its twelfth anniversary this September. It’s been twenty years since Sinclair first encountered Lindy Hop. He still remembers how people thought he was crazy for breaking his bond and quitting his job.
The journey hasn’t always been easy, but today, Sinclair is exactly where he wants to be: pursuing his passion as an artist.
Sinclair in full swing. Via 50/50
Sinclair Ang runs Jazz Inc (Facebook). Why not try one of his online classes here.
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Jazz Inc and Facebook Page.
- Jazz Inc’s online Video Classes and Donation Link
- The Rhythmakers – Sinclair’s Jazz Band
- Freedom Jazz Dance Project – a collaboration with street dancers ScRach MarcS
- Sinclair’s YouTube Channel
- 50/50: A workshop about gender roles in dance, in collaboration with Theatreworks