The Dance of the Flaming Arseholes or Dance Of The Flamers was one of the ritualistic "hallowed traditions" bestowed upon the Bugis Street area by sojourning sailors, especially from the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and New Zealand, when the vicinity was a congregation point for transgender women from the 1950s to the mid-1980s. It was held on the roof of the infamous public toilet there.
The performers' compatriots on the ground would chant the signature "Haul 'em down, you Zulu Warrior" song for "musical accompaniment" whilst the matelots performed their act either completely naked or with their trousers and underwear removed. The dance was carried out after stuffing one end of a sheet of newspaper rolled up into a tapered cone into the dancer's anus while the other end was set alight. A length of toilet or any type of paper may also be used. Some entertainers would attempt to walk from one end of the "stage" to the other without dropping the buttock torch.
Contemporarily, the dance is commonly performed by both armed forces personnel and football clubs. It is an experience that both onlookers and participants find amusing and rarely forget. Performers light a rolled-up tube of newspaper and stick it between their buttocks up their anuses while bent over with their pants around their ankles. They then have to waddle or shuffle from an arbitrary starting line to the finishing line without dropping the "torch". If they drop it, they are in trouble and will suffer a penalty ranging from having to start over to getting doused with beer before recommencing. In some versions practised in pubs, when the fire gets close to their buttocks and the screaming starts to increase, patrons throw beer at the flames to extinguish them. Typically, it is like a rite of baptism that everyone in a team or group will participate in both to gain acceptance and to strengthen ties by the age-old adage of shared absurdity.
Origin of song
A slight variation of the sailors' vocal accompaniment, "Haul 'em down, you Zulu Warrior", is performed in this video by a veteran serviceman. His version is entitled, "Hold 'em down, Zulu warrior" but the tune is exactly the same:
Tabletop nude and topless dancing
Apart from dancing on the roof of the public toilet, impromptu performances were also held on tabletops by visiting sailors and local transwomen. The following photos are from Peter Lee in an article on Mothership:
Over the years this became almost a mandatory exercise and although it may seem to many to be a gross act of indecency, it was generally well received by the throng of sometimes up to hundreds of tourists and locals who crowded outside the toilet to witness the spectacle. The kai tais or beanie boys, as the transwomen were referred to by Anglophone white visitors, certainly did not mind either. By the mid-1970s, Singapore started a crackdown on this type of lewd behaviour and sailors were arrested at gunpoint by the local authorities for upholding the tradition. By this time those sailors brave enough to try it were dealt with severely and even shipped home in disgrace.
In one instance, reported in The Straits Times on 23 March 1974, two Australian sailors were arrested for indecent exposure at Bugis Street on Sunday morning, 17 March 1974. The sailors, from the destroyer "HMAS Vendetta" which was in Singapore for naval exercises, caused a furore when they stripped and performed the dance on the roof of the public toilet. An ANZUK spokesman said that officers from Beach Road police station arrested the pair and handed them over to the military police. They were subsequently sent to the captain of the destroyer for disciplinary action.
Recreation of dance in Bugis Street (the movie)
Yonfan, the Hong Kong director of the movie Bugis Street, attempted to recreate the iconic Dance of the Flaming Arseholes in his film. However, since the original toilet had been demolished during the redevelopment of Bugis Street in the mid-1980s, he used a contemporary building at New Bugis Street as a substitute. Unfortunately, the building was not an exact replica of the original and the Caucasian actors merely mooned at the audience in the movie instead of actually inserting a roll of paper into their anuses and setting it alight.
- "Bugis Street Singapore Dance Of The Flamers", Royal Australian Navy Gun Plot, 2003.
- Singapore Dawn Watchers' Society, "Dance of the Flaming Arseholes - Bugis Street", ASHFORD NETDESIGN 2012 - 2017.
- Benjamin "Mr Miyagi" Lee, "The Dance of The Flaming Arseholes: A Royal Australian Navy Tradition", miyagi.sg, 13 May 2015.
- Joshua Lee, "Bugis Street was once the place to catch ‘The Dance of the Flaming Arseholes’", Mothership, 20 October 2017.
- Ernie, "Abe Saffron and the dance of the flaming arseholes", Cleaves, 27 July 2008.
This article was written by Roy Tan.