WNY Women 2014: Jamie Doktor
IMAGE COURTESY OF SCARLET NOIR PHOTOGRAPHIC
Jamie Doktor is a mover and shaker. She’s also a bumper and grinder, and an omnidirectional tassel twirler. But then, that’s the business she’s in. It was Doktor who brought to Buffalo the neo-burlesque movement that emerged in New York City in the 1990s. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, neoburlesque adds contemporary self-awareness to nostalgic performance traditions, with vaudevillian theatrical flourishes, and gender-bending tendencies. Under the stage name Mistress J Kiss, Doktor leads the area’s premiere burlesque troupe, the Stripteasers, which has been entertaining area audiences for eleven years. She has also taught the secrets of artful disrobement to upwards of seventy-five area women (and some men) from all walks in life—from ages twenty-one to sixty-one. Some of her students have formed their own troupes; others work independently.
“I didn’t realize I was starting a huge movement,” says Doktor, as we chat in the basement offices of Spot Coffee on Chippewa, where she is manager. Neoburlesque has little in common with the lap-dance strip joints across the Canadian border. “We don’t make a lot of money,” says Doktor, then hastens to add with a laugh, “but we do shake our shit in your face—because we want to.” Even under florescent lights, sans makeup, the tattooed and diminutive—five-feet-one in flats—Doktor radiates charm. But as Mistress J Kiss, wearing the retro makeup and hairdo she learned by watching her grandmother, she’s right out of central casting—circa 1940. Her red lips and smoldering gaze are framed by eyebrows so sharply arched they seem like weapons. It’s a look that turned heads when the Buffalo native moved to Georgia in 2001. “I was a married homemaker and Atlanta socialite,” she says. But a front row encounter with rising neoburlesque star Dita von Teese altered everything. “She was just dripping in crystals, and rhinestones, and ruffles, and feathers,” recalls Doktor, “and I thought, this is what I have always wanted to do but I didn’t know it existed.”
Her marriage ended, Doktor returned to Buffalo with nothing, and soon began bartending at Roxy’s, a (recently closed) lesbian bar. The bar manager needed a theme for Thursdays. Doktor, who is openly bisexual, remembered von Teese, and proposed a bar-top burlesque show to songs by Peggy Lee, Louis Armstrong, and Frank Sinatra. It was a hit, and, before long, other women were asking if they could perform. That’s when Doktor became a burlesque teacher, and the Stripteasers were born. Since then, she has only taken three and a half months off for the birth of her son, now age seven.
More than anything, neoburlesque is about self-empowerment. Practitioners can be fat, thin, old, young, gay, or straight. “You no longer have to be concerned about what anybody thinks of you,” says Doktor. “I give my fellow performers the confidence to shed all those [body] insecurities. We’re born naked. We invented clothes. We don’t need them. We need to embrace everything about being a human.” It’s not unusual for her students to cry with joy upon experiencing this newfound confidence. “Once you feel it, you’re empowered,” she says.
Burlesque is an art form that entails humor, theater, movement, and politics, and, as Doktor explains, “at some point or another you’re going to take your clothes off, shake whatever your mother gave ya, and people clap for joy.” Whether it’s tap dancing and juggling while twirling flaming tassels, or singing a song while making cake batter (both actual acts), the trick is making it look easy.” Why do people do it? “I don’t know,” says Doktor. “Why do humans kiss? I don’t know. Why do we get the hiccups? I don’t know. What I do know is it makes us feel really good. It’s this dance the audience and the performer do, and I’m in control.”
The Stripteasers appear every Tuesday night at Nietzsche’s, and on the last Monday of every month at Vera Pizzeria.
Women of WNY Profile: Jamie Doktor, Mistress J of the Stripteasers from Buffalo Spree magazine on Vimeo. Video by Chris Gallant.
Lili St. Cyr or Gypsy Rose Lee? Gypsy Rose Lee all the way
Favorite item of apparel to remove? Veil or blindfold. The anticipation for eye contact drives the crowd mad!
Do you tell your age? Want to know how old I am? I’m proud to tell you. I’m thirty-eight years old. It’s just a number. That means I’ve been around. I’m wiser. I’ve learned a lot through the years. A lot has gone on in my lifetime of almost four decades. I wake up and I put on makeup just because I like to. But I don’t examine all the flaws in the mirror. I’m grateful for the things I have.
Last book read? Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Favorite family activity? Shakespeare in Delaware Park with my son. Hands down, the best part of my summer!
Personal hero? My fellow troupe members. The Stripteasers are my family. They have lifted me up, carried me through, given me inspiration and motivation. We really are so incredible in our everyday lives with things going on constantly, but we make time for each other in order to have that creative outlet. Hell, it’s the longest relationship I’ve ever had!