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Millicent Hailes
Photography by Millicent Hailes, Hair by Jake Gallagher, Make-up by Hiroshi Akiyama, Model Nadia Lee Cohen

Can’t touch this

Among LA’s seedy strip club scene, photographer Millicent Hailes uncovers a place where girls feel empowered – and we talk to one of them

Provocative photographer Millicent Hailes is fresh from a two-month stay in LA. One of many trips which has taken her work global in the hunt for her next shoot – often, as we saw last time we featured her work, laced with seduction, courtesy of strong women. "You can find the erotic anywhere, you just have to look for it,” says Hailes. High on her tour itinerary was a walk-through of LA's finest strip clubs, including spots where Courtney Love herself would dance pre-grunge . For Hailes, it was mainly for research purposes, but also "a little fun too".

But Hailes wasn’t after just any club. She was on the lookout for places that had broken away from the chauvinistic, usually deflating clichéd strip club we've become accustomed to – and surprisingly, she found a string of clubs where women hold the power, prostitution is low and the smile on the girls' faces is really real.

Enthralled by one club in particular called Cheetahs, the photographer witnessed a power shift; one where women took charge and were markedly more confident. “The girls each had a different style of dance and look, and each danced to a song of their choice,” she says. “It felt a lot more personal, and it was a lot of fun.”

In homage to this empowerment, the photographer set to work on her next project. Mirroring the barriers between stripper and customer, Hailes utilised a sheet of plastic between herself and model Nadia Lee. “The plastic sheeting is a metaphorical barrier between the model and the audience. She is pressed up against it, but you can’t fully see her or touch her,” explains Hailes. “I wanted the shoot to seem very ‘bodily’, and by having the body pressed against the plastic and capturing the breath creating a fog over the images, it feels a bit intrusive, but also has a distance because of the sheeting.” Hailes' friend, LA set designer Chase Cushing, caught up with Malice, one of the dancers working at Cheetahs, to pick her brain about what really goes on behind closed doors.

“I know for a fact there are girls doing full service at Crazy Girls all the time. I was giving a dance there one night to a couple and the girl next to me started giving her dude a blowjob and I was like ‘Ummm, I dont know if you can do that here right now!’” – Malice

Have you worked at any other clubs?

Malice: I've basically go-go danced all over Hollywood. I stayed at Cheatahs because it’s got less prosiututes – or, you know, if it has prostitutes they don't stay there long, and maybe if any of the girls are doing they are on the DL about it. 

They crack down pretty hard?

Malice: Yeah, they [Cheetahs] keep it clean for the most part. We are in full bikinis the whole time, so there's definitely no hooker shit going on. At Crazy Girls they have big beds in the back, they have these curtains, and I know for a fact there are girls doing full service there all the time. I was giving a dance there one night to a couple and the girl next to me started giving her dude a blowjob and I was like, “Umm, I dont know if you can do that here right now!” I was just waiting for someone to come back and be like, “Excuse me, you can’t!” That was my last night there because I had already had enough of people trying to put their finger in my butthole. I would be giving a lapdance and then next to me I would hear the sound of like bracelets shaking and it’s just that hand job noise, or sometimes you would just hear (moans and whacks table) like in the fucking booth right next to you! I was just like, “I can’t with this place!” It's funny, because the girls who were definitely prostitutes there were always accusing each other of being hookers to try and get the other girls fired.

So, not a lot of camaraderie?

Malice: No. Girls didn't respect each other. They were fighting all the time, like physically beating the shit out of eachother – very regularly.

“If I'm going to dance to a Slayer song, I come out with a nun costume and look like fucking Jesus Christ crucified on a cross dildo” - Malice

What is your favourite song to dance to? 

Malice: Well, for years it’s always been 80s metal and punk for me. If I get a big crowd and they're into it, then I just play it and it fucking kills! One night, a bunch of guys came in from seeing a Slayer show, and I got to play Slayer and they were super stoked. I love nights like that, where I get to play what I really love.

Not like at Jumbos, where they have a jukebox?

Malice: That would fucking kill me, because I would be dancing to a song that another girl is dancing to – I have to have my own shit. I know they have Judas Priest at Jumbos and that has always been my shit, but I would never want it any more because some other bitch would be dancing to Judas Priest and that's my shit – fuck that!

I have a lot of creative sets that I do with costumes, I have to have the music that goes with them. If I'm going to dance to a Slayer song, I come out with a nun costume and look like fucking Jesus Christ crucified on a cross dildo, you know, “Angel of Death” or “South of Heaven”. I have this whole little act that I do. I dance to Die Antwoord a lot, and I do “Fatty Boom Boom. In the video she wears a little tutu, so I bring out a little tutu and I dance in that and put my hair all silly. Then I have other sets where I wear a ski mask and a button-up and try to look like Eazy-E – I have my gangster sets and everything! I don't usually waste my energy going on stage until people show up. I usually tell the DJs, “Nah, I’m not ready.” I’m like the old lady stripper!

You’re just letting them get their practice in?

Malice: They need it! I’m not as money-driven as most of them – if there's a full rack, I’m going to dance so much better. If there's no one there, I’m not going to dance as good. It’s not going to be fun. I want to entertain people, that's what I live for. My real focus is to have a good time and entertain the shit out of people when they're there.