We chat to dancer, model and influencer Anisha Thai about what it’s like working in a male-dominated industry, how she handles discrimination and what it meant to win TVB Dance Champion.
Half-Vietnamese and half-Comoran Anisha Thai has made a name for herself in the 852 as a proud ambassador for African culture, bridging cultural gaps in Asia. She’s been dancing up a storm, bringing Afro dance to the streets of Hong Kong and winning local dance competitions on television. On top of that, Anisha’s been killing it on social media with her creative videos, modelling under Harmony HK and working on-site as a civil engineer. Ahead, this multi-talented rising star shares what it’s like working in a male-dominated industry, how she handles discrimination and what it meant to win TVB Dance Champion.
Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from and how long have you lived in Hong Kong?
I have been living in Hong Kong for almost four years. I was born and raised in Paris but also lived in London and South Africa for studies and work before moving to Hong Kong.
You moved to Hong Kong to pursue a career in Civil Engineering. Can you tell us more about that?
Hong Kong has always been on my dream city list. I guess because of the architecture in the city, and the energy. Working as an engineer in a city different from Paris was a goal for me, I wanted to really open my mind to something new.
Civil engineering is traditionally a male-dominated industry. What challenges, if any, have you faced being a female engineer?
The challenges I’ve faced were mostly related to the fact that I was young and looked like a foreigner. The most shocking thing that happened to me, while I was working as a site engineer, was that one of the top managers on-site kept calling me “Bob Marley” every time he saw me. I had braids at that time. I didn’t feel brave enough to talk to my managers about it, so I convinced myself it was nothing. That was definitely a racial discrimination attack. I think it is important to be aware when someone is mistreating you and to speak up, or at least talk to someone you trust about it because it can be damaging to our mental health to keep it in.
Did you find it easy to settle in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong is very easy to navigate so I rarely felt lost in the city. There are a lot of different communities (the French community is so big here, it’s possible to get by just speaking French!). What was less easy was integrating myself into the local community as a foreigner. To me, I don’t see much point in staying amongst my French community if I decided to come live in Hong Kong. The TV dance show I went on really helped me to immerse myself in the local culture (the show was in Cantonese). I have made a number of local Hongkonger friends and I am now learning the language!
You’re also juggling work as a dancer, choreographer and model. Can you tell us more about that side of your life?
Dance has always been a big part of my life. I’ve been dancing since I was five and I haven’t stopped since. Whether I was working or studying, I made time for dance because dance gives me that extra boost of confidence, that extra joy of being alive. I can honestly say dance is like oxygen for me. It was also important for me to keep working as an engineer. I was not lucky enough to come from a wealthy family so I have to make sure I can sustain myself.
Why did you decide to model under Harmony HK?
Harmony HK has strong core values and aims to actively push diversity and inclusion in Hong Kong. Joining was natural to me, I saw the potential and future in that agency. And look now, it is doing amazing things and has made a big impact in the modelling sector.
Congratulations on your win on TVB Dance Champion! What does it mean to you to be able to share your African culture through dance?
Thank you! I am very proud to be able to bridge the gap between my African side and Asian side. I am convinced that the world has no borders and that we can all co-exist by accepting our differences, celebrating our cultures and respecting each other. My intention was to share my culture but to also push other people to embrace theirs. I also wanted to combat stereotypes associated with African people in general. I am so glad people were very receptive to it.
What about Afro dance do you love so much?
Its connection with music, the natural joy that comes out when you start dancing, the rawness, and the fact that this dance exudes so much positivity.
What is it like being an African-Asian influencer in Hong Kong?
It is exciting. I am convinced that bringing to the table a different model of representation will help the world be more open-minded.
Have you faced any challenges in your career because of your mixed ethnicity?
I did, in the engineering side, there were some people who didn’t take me seriously because of my background or look (wearing braids). In dancing, being ethnically diverse has been a strength, to be honest, people seem to focus more on the work I put into my dances over my look. Whereas in the modelling industry, I got rejected a few times because they said I wasn’t “Asian enough”.
What advice do you have for anyone facing adversity or discrimination due to their race?
There are two ways to deal with it: you can stand up for yourself, respond and educate people but in some circumstances, it’s better to preserve energy and ignore them. You can approach the person who made you feel discriminated against and see if they’re open to discussion. Most of the time, I prefer to save my energy and use my platform to express myself instead. In general, I would advise people to stay close to communities that advocate for diversity and inclusion.
You’ve done some incredible work as an ambassador for racial diversity and African culture in Asia. Can you share your most meaningful milestones?
Thank you! Firstly, managing to arrive here in Hong Kong as a female engineer is something that I can’t take for granted. This growing exposure and recognition for my work is something that I’m very proud of. When I first came here I dreamed of being able to change people’s perspective on African culture, and by extension, African people. Winning that dance competition on TV was definitely another big milestone for me as I was able to reach more of a local audience.
What does a typical week look like for you?
I am currently fully dedicated to my work as an Entrepreneur, Social Media Content Creator, Choreographer and Model. I’ve been splitting my time between creating content for my social media accounts, modelling, learning languages and singing too!
What do you do in your downtime?
I meet my friends and people I call my family. Socialising really energises me and the support I get from my friends and family always keeps me on track.
What are five personal goals you have for this year?
- Meet my professional goals
- Spend more time with my family
- Improve my singing
- Take better care of my hair
- And learn how to cook
How would you like to see Hong Kong grow in terms of embracing cultural diversity in the coming years?
I want Hong Kong to keep welcoming more diverse faces on TV, modelling commercials, and I want to see more role models represent more ethnic minority communities. It would also be great to have more cultural events, like festivals and food markets, which we already have a lot of!