That clip is at the very end of this British Pathé dance instruction film (incidentally, fashion history buffs will be delighted by Miss Jose Lennard's lower back skirt hem - a major trend in the last years of the 1920s):
THE FLAT CHARLESTON MADE EASY
The stunt was intended to demonstrate that the new 'flat' Charleston required very little space, in contrast to its original, wild form, which was a veritable whirlwind of flying heels and arms, presenting considerable danger to nearby dancers. Indeed the Charleston was banned from many dancehalls at the time.
It is ironic that this clip is now employed to symbolise the reckless, risk-taking, devil-may-care nature of the times when its original intention was actually quite the opposite.
While I could easily (and quite happily) go on about the Charleston, this post concerns the man who appeared in that film, the famous dance master - and energetic self-publicist - Santos Casani.
Mr Casani was the proprietor of "the largest school of dancing in England," wrote a column for the Daily Mail, and made numerous short dance instruction films for British Pathé's cinemagazine for women, Eve's Film Review. The film company supplied free instruction leaflets based on the dance steps Casani featured, which viewers could send off for, and as a demonstration of how popular these films were, on one occasion they had to print 20,000 leaflets to satisfy the demand (most of this information is derived from Jenny Hammerton's fascinating book For Ladies Only? Eve's Film Review Pathé Cinemagazine 1921-1933).
As an aside, its lovely to imagine a cinema audience practising dance steps under their seats as they watch the films!
Here Casani makes an appearance in Popular Music and Dancing Weekly magazine, demonstrating the first three steps of the 'Five-Step' - steps four and five were published the following week, but unfortunately I don't have a copy of that issue (again, fashion buffs please note how remarkably long Miss Lennard's skirt was in 1924!):
"How to dance the Five-Step by Santos Casani" in Popular Music and Dancing Weekly, 7th June 1924, page 133 (click picture for a larger view).
In 1933 Casani opened his own nightclub in Imperial House, Regent Street, London and British Pathé was there to record it.
If you were to try to imagine a high-tone 1930s nightclub in the West End of London his establishment lives up to your Art Deco dreams, and this film includes footage of the renowned house band lead by pianist Charlie Kunz, a swimsuit fashion parade, an elegant rendering of the waltz by Mr Casani himself, not to mention a novelty song and a curious female contortionist. Pour yourself into a backless satin dress, shake up a cocktail and join in the fun:
LONDON'S FAMOUS CLUBS AND CABARETS NO. 10 - CASANI'S CLUB
Unlike his near contemporary Victor Silvester, Santos Casani failed to secure himself a place in dance posterity and his name is probably unknown to most people nowadays. But he was clearly a significant figure in his time - a suave, elegant man who knew how to work the media for maximum attention. In his prime, he was Mr Dance, and I'd like to salute his memory.
If you would like to see more of Santos Casani in action, there's plenty more films for you to enjoy.