The History of Scottish Country Dances in Diagrams

In the 1940s a Scottish Country dancer living near Leeds, Mr Frank Leslie Pilling, was looking for a system to give himself and his friends a quick way of remembering dances. He devised a system of symbols which meant, however long and complicated, a dance could be coded and drawn out in a very abbreviated way to act as ‘an aide memoire’.

These first coded dances were copied out by hand, the sheets stapled together and issued to friends.

The number of dances and the requests for copies grew and all the work became too much for the Pillings and their helpers. Thus in 1955 the first edition of ‘The Little Green Book was published. The second edition containing some 247 dances and costing two shillings and sixpence came out in 1958.

In 1967 the book went out of print and Mr Pilling had decided that because of the amount of work involved he would not be producing any more. He had offered the system to various people but no one had accepted the responsibility. It seemed a pity that such a useful book should go out of print and after an exchange of correspondence it was agreed that Mr John Elsley and a few other members of the Chester Caledonian Association and Reel Club should take over the publication.

There were of course some conditions. The book would be produced as a service to Scottish country dancers to a high standard and as a non- profit making venture with no charge being made for the editorial work. Any profit, after the loans were repaid, was to be used for financing the next edition  or for supporting the learning of Scottish Country Dancing.

The activities which have benefited from Scottish Country Dancing in Diagrams are a contribution of £250 towards the New Members Pack, an annual scholarship for one week at RSCDS Summer School since 1997, a contribution of £2500 towards the production of the CD for Book 15 and bursaries to encourage local dancers, both youngsters and those taking their Teaching Certificate.

The symbols and the system became the intellectual property of F L Pillings Successors. Over the years the committee has given permission for it to be used in books and on ball programmes provided the copyright is acknowledged and for this we rely on the goodwill of dancers.

After considering several methods of production the committee decided that the diagrams would be drawn out to scale and then handed to professional tracers to produce the copy for printing. It was decided to keep to the same size as the previous editions and the green binding. The tracers were of course paid and that and the printing costs were covered by loans from members of the Caledonian Association.

In September 1969 the 3rd edition was printed containing 481 dances. 3010 copies were produced to be sold for 5 shillings post free. The edition sold well and after a few corrections was reprinted in January 1971 and again in June 1972. In all just over 8000 copies were sold.

February 1975 saw the first printing of the 4th edition containing 96 pages with 469 dances. This edition was reprinted four times and in all sold over 12,400 copies

The next edition was published in 1980, containing 558 dances on 116 pages, and with several reprints it sold over 20,000 copies.

The production of the 6th edition saw a change in method. Mr John Duckett produced the drawings on a computer. This edition contained 662 dances, was reprinted five times and sold around 16,000 copies.

The 7th edition came out in October 1997 containing 694 dances on 169pages. The book was again selling well so the committee decided to try a large print edition and this came out in 1998. It was well received and was repeated with the 8th edition in 2004.

The 7th edition sold over 12,000 copies and to date the 8th, 201 pages and 771 dances, has sold 11,000 copies.

Because the size of the book was reaching its limits it was decided to produce a supplement instead of a new edition and this, containing 65 dances, was produced in 2009. To date it has sold over  4,000  copies .

Because the number of popular dances has increased to such an extent the next development is to transfer some of the less popular dances to this website, with free access  so that the diagrams are not lost but there will be room for new dances in the next edition.

The continuation of Mr Pillings work is due to many people including

C N Ribbeck              J P Duckett                         Sue Duckett                       Dave Horsman

J B Elsley                    J M Macaskill                     Stephen O’Brien              Paula Wright

Mr L F Roberts                   Miss H Roberts           Trish Reid