Desire of the Moons: The Elun Isille (essay)

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This is a creative work set in the world of Elanthia, attributed to its original author(s). It does not necessarily represent the official lore of GemStone IV.

Title: Desire of the Moons: The Elun Isille

Author: Elaejia Silithyr Loenthra

The Elun Isille of Ta'Loenthra


It has been said that to write about dance is like attempting to paint about poetry; still, one's duty to historiology cannot be ignored, despite the poverty of language.

To better appreciate the descriptions in this text, the author strongly advises the reader to make a pilgrimmage to Ta'Loenthra and observe the paintings of Esilrae Winura Loenthra in the Hanesyddol Museum[1].

The Elun Isille

The fundamental inspiration for the Elun Isille, which roughly translates to “desire (of) the moon,” is said to have come from the effect of the moons' pull on the tides. Sailors coming into the commercial ports of Ta'Loenthra naturally spent their shoreleave in the numerous taverns that crowd any port, which invariably featured music and dancing among their temptations. The admixture of nautical knowledge, a desire for diversion, and the allures of courtship eventually yielded what we know today as the Elun Isille.

The Elun Isille was devised and perfected in a time when the Elven Nations were just beginning to truly recover from the Undead War. In Ta'Illistim, Argent Mirror Nuraet took the Peacock Throne and decreed that all Illistimi should be educated; in Ta'Loenthra, it was the the city guilds that took on this role. Expanding their efforts in recruitment and tutelage, the guilds tempted youths from more and more distant communities and hamlets, certainly intending to mold them to compete on the inter-house stage, but also in turn being molded by them. Thus the Elun Isille migrated from the taverns to the ballrooms.

With its establishment as a court dance, the Elun Isille was over time formalized in guildhalls into a set of specific steps which are then combined into short chains called phrases. Expressed by experienced dancers, phrases are combined ad hoc on the dancefloor, each dance partner responding to the other, and thus each instance of an Elun Isille is often a unique conversation, called a repartee. Gifted dancers whose repartee has earned them renown are called nielvikai, “salt-hearted,” an homage to the dance's seaside roots.

Partners in the dance are often long-term, in that the same two individuals will dance with one another for years, even from their earliest training. Thus some dance couples attain fame and are sought after as the heart of balls centering on live performance, and patrons are quick to snap up particularly gifted young talents. However, it is perfectly possible to learn and enjoy the Elun Isille as a dilettante; indeed, some opine that the ability to hold one's own in a repartee with an unfamiliar partner is a mark of even greater ability.

Music & Choreography

The musical inspiration for the Elun Isille is quite varied and can range from staid ancient lays, to modern jaunts, to avant-garde staccato rhythms. A predictable and strong beat naturally appeals to beginners, but advanced dancers have been known to set their repartee to more unusual and even to purely choral music. It has even been en vogue recently to provide one's own musical accompaniment by means of simple finger-cymbals.

Generally speaking, this is a dance that focuses on legwork, with exaggerated strides and high-knee steps forming the foundation of most of the movements. Dance partners typically face each other with their arms in a familiar dancing position - hands clasped to one side, and around the waist or shoulder on the other.

The list of formal steps to the Elun Isille is fairly expansive, but each step is part of a larger step family which can be briefly described. One notable feature of the dance which must be understood first is its orientation – steps are described as being taken in one of four relative directions:

  • Aranwe (sunward, or toward the leading partner);
  • Elunwe (moonward, or toward the following partner);
  • Aeunwe (literally “treeward”, or toward the focal point of the room, where a throne might sit); and
  • Lirinwe (literally “songward”, or moving away from the focal point of the room, where the musicians of a ball might be stationed.)

Each of these directions may be further refined in relation to one's partner; for example, aranwe becomes aranliwe when the instruction is to place one's weight upon the leading partner, such as in an embrace that becomes a twirl or a lift.

Step Families:

  • Eclipse family - steps which cross one leg over another, may be one's own or partner's, often forming a figure-eight pattern.
  • Orrery family - steps which carry the dancers in a circular pattern.
  • Tide family - a particularly broad category of steps which include small and often playful motions of the feet such as sweeps, taps, and caresses.
  • Tempest family - another broad category of steps, those which are bold, powerful, or forceful, such as stomps, captures, and freezes.

Therefore as an example instruction, an intermediate instructor might ask for the following repartee, and would expect the partners to ad lib their own segues from each directed step to the next:

  • Join in open embrace.
  • Eclipse Asp, tidal, lirinwe.
  • Orrery Half-moon back-step, lirinwe.
  • Eclipse Callisto's stride, tempest, elunwe.
  • Join in closed embrace.
  • Eclipse Tidepool breakers, tidal, elunwe
  • Orrery Half-moon revolve, aranliwe.
  • Fin.

Sartorial Considerations

As far as dress for the Elun Isille, this can be rather idiosyncratic, which likely owes to its humble origins. In general, the dance is incompatible with voluminous court fashions such as bustled or panniered skirts, due to its focus on legwork. This was the cause of no little consternation in its early days, but over the centuries as fashion has shifted and become less restrictive, styles have become more varied and creative. Modern dancers typically opt for tailored but loose-fitting garments in lightweight sumptuous fabrics, with knee-length skirts for women and oft coordinated hip-length tunics for their partners. Silks of all kinds are much favored, with sea-silk enjoying enduring popularity. In addition to Lady Winura's paintings on this subject, the Hanesyddol's collection contains an extremely rare elesine habiliment, tailored in Ta'Ashrim for one of the Amethyst Court’s preeminent nielvikai in the days before the Sea Elf war.


Dance is a vibrant and evocative art changing with - and in response to - the social and political climate as much as any other medium of expression. In our modern era, the urge to revisit and update the dances of our older traditions can perhaps be understood as a means of centering ourselves on the axis of history. There is value in taking a moment's pause on this great dance floor, to observe the parallels of today to yesterday, just as we see the recurrence in the slow dance of the distant stars.


  1. Painting between -6,722 to -6,424ME, the avant garde Lady Winura captured the ardor and grace of the Elun Isille as it was first coming into being in the commercial oceanside seridals of Ta'Loenthra. At a time when her contemporaries were just beginning to embellish their traditional landscapes with figures, Lady Winura pushed the boundaries of the acceptable in oils in the same way that the Elun Isille was pushing the boundaries of dancing and social mores.

Further Reading

Log of the Elun Isille lecture presented at Autumn at the Aerie in 5123

You clearly say, "Thank you all for joining us at the Aerie this weekend, it is our great pleasure to host these cultural events and we're gladdened to find them so well received."

Missoni gazes with interest at you.

You begin, "It might be said that attempting to lecture on dance is waste of breath better spent on the dancefloor."

Gelynne smiles.

Aendir grins.

You say, "However, despite the obvious drawbacks to time spent learning rather than dancing, there is always value to understanding a little background, particularly when it is in regard to an old tradition."

Eruien glances around the room.

Eruien settles onto one of the plush settees.

You continue, "That said, I shall spend only a little time at this imaginary lectern," she sketches out a boxy shape before her, "Though I will give you ample time to ask questions before we move to the Hall for the practical component."

Eruien props his ankle on his opposite knee, watching you with rapt attention.

You say, "The earliest known reference to a dance called the Elun Isille dates back some eleven thousand years, with the paintings of Lady Esilrae Winura Loenthra. Some of these paintings reside in the Hanesyddol and are well worth the trip to view them on their own merits apart from their bearing on our subject today."

You note, "Her ability to capture motion was quite unparalleled."

You say, "Prior to that, of course, the dance existed and evolved from informal roots in the dockside taverns of Ta'Loenthra's trade ports. The commonly accepted history is that it grew naturally out of the atmosphere of the taverns - bathing their populations of sailors, merchants, and tradespeople in music, diversion, and it must be said, passion."

You translate, "Desire the moons, or desire of the moons - the rough meaning of Elun Isille - is said to have been inspired by the effect of the moons' pull upon the tides. Thus the dance's roots are linguistically planted in a certain type of fluid movement and grace, punctuated by playfulness and power."

You rhetorically ask, "How then, did a dockside dance move from the taverns to the ballrooms?"

You lightly answer, "Why, through education, of course."

(Elaejia motions to those gathered with a raised hand.)

You note, "Roughly a thousand years before Lady Winura was inspired by the Elun, the Shining City's own Mirror Nuraet decreed that all young Illistimi must be educated and provided for schools to be founded here in Ta'Illistim."

You say, "Not to be outdone, though with a more laissez-faire approach that I am sure comes as little surprise, Ta'Loenthra also arranged for its youth to be educated, through its extensive guild system."

Lissaya adopts an agreeable expression.

You expound, "The guilds recruited aggressively and extensively from within the city proper and out to Loenthra's most far-flung hamlets... and portside villages. This influx of the young resulted in a two-way exchange, the elders imparting their knowledge - and the youth bringing their energy and influence."

You remark, "I rather like to think that the guildmasters were somewhat dismayed by that latter turn."

You say, "Over the years in the performing arts and dancing guilds, the Elun was formalized as the youth brought their new ideas. Soon enough it had shed its seedier reputation and began appearing in more and more courtly settings, until skill at the Elun became sought-after among patrons who desired the most talented dancers to bring excitement and passion to their soirees."

You pleasantly attest, "There - you have been likewise educated, just as Nuraet would have wished. Let us move on now to speak on choreography and other more... dynamic matters."

Lissaya chuckles.

Aendir smiles.

You say, "As I mentioned, the Elun is a dance of fluidity and grace, and it is one whose focus is on legwork. It is a dance for partners, and exaggerated strides, high-knee steps, taps, twirls and floating glides are all hallmarks of the Elun."

You promise, "While there is an expansive list of formal steps to the Elun, I wouldn't dream of boring you with it. Instead, all you need know for now is that each step is part of one of four families-- Eclipse, Orrery, Tide, or Tempest."

Missoni gulps.

You explain, "Eclipse steps are steps which involve crossing legs, Orrery are those which carry dancers in a round or circular motion. Tide steps are small and playful, while Tempest steps are bold and powerful."

You continue, "An important element of the Elun is that its directions are expressed relativistically - one travels toward the leading partner, toward the following partner, toward the focal point of the room, or away from that focal point."

Speaking in Elven, Legaci whispers aloud, "Eclipse, Orrery, Tide, or Tempest."

You note, "There is some specialized terminology for the directions as well, but we needn't get caught up in details."

You say, "Combinations of steps are called phrases, and a complete dance between two partners is called a repartee. It is quite common for dancers to be an enduring pair that dances together for decades or longer, and their established repartee can be remarkable."

You remark, "I think though, that the ability to create ad hoc repartee on the dancefloor displays a different and more exciting type of skill. Truly gifted dancers of the Elun are known in Ta'Loenthra as nielvikai -- shall I translate for you?"

You pleasedly supply, "Salt-hearted."

You say, "Another connection to the sea, and so pleasant to ponder on, I think."

You briskly say, "I am sure you are all anxious to move about, so I shall close swiftly with the conclusion of my short treatise on the Elun--"

Her hand lowered, Lissaya gives Axhinde a subtle wave.

You remove a piece of watercolored vellum from in your chain shoulder bag.

You read, "Dance is a vibrant and evocative art changing with - and in response to - the social and political climate as much as any other medium of expression. In our modern era, the urge to revisit and update the dances of our older traditions can perhaps be understood as a means of centering ourselves on the axis of history. There is value in taking a moment's pause on this great dance floor, to observe the parallels of today to yesterday, just as we see the recurrence in the slow dance of the distant stars."

You say, "Our festival this year focuses greatly on dance traditions, I would be interested to hear some others if any would like to speak on them, or I can answer questions if there are some lingering about."

Speaking in Elven, Gelynne says, "I have very little experience in many of the dances, please."

Speaking in Elven to you, Aendir asks, "As a Loenthran, when did you first begin to learn to dance - formally?"

You amusedly say, "Now forced to admit my age, the ignominy."

Gelynne laughs softly, trying to hide her amusement.

Speaking in Elven, Axhinde says, "I tried dancing once..."

Speaking in Elven, Eruien says, "You don't have to say how many years ago it was."

Eruien chuckles.

Speaking in Elven to Eruien, Aendir says, "She will find a way to envision some sort of slight, brother."

You say, "Lady Silithyr of course insisted I learn to dance but I must say I am not an adept dancer, but merely an acceptable one."

Speaking fondly in Elven to Aendir, Eruien teases, "Perhaps you are deserving of it."

Aendir holds up his hand and tilts it side to side in a so-so gesture.

You say, "My finishing school was where true lessons began."

Eruien nods in agreement to you.

Speaking in Elven, Eruien says, "My experience was a bit different."

You say, "The lively social scene in Loenthra demands at least some facility."

Uniana pours herself a flute of white icewine.

Speaking in Elven, Eruien says, "I did not show an inclination for it as a child, and as such it was not part of any formal education for me in any fashion until I was an adolescent, and showed inclinations towards securing myself a patron in the royal court."

Speaking in Elven, Eruien says, "At that point, as Lady Silithyr says, there is some expectation that you know how to dance without trodding on your partner's feet."

Speaking in Elven, Eruien says, "I am adequate at it, but I never had the passion for it that I did other arts, and therefore never fully cultivated it."

Speaking humbly in Elven to you, Legaci asks, "' =repeat please, speak further upon this insight.. regarding the Dance of Eclipse, Orrery, Tide, or Tempest. Can one not start with a Tempest which leads down towards an Eclipse or must it be in the order of Eclipse, Orrery, Tide, or Tempest?"

You understandingly say, "Ah."

You say, "A very good question- the steps are only formalized in their discrete motions, not in their combination."

You say, "As long as you can move fluidly from one step to the next, you may take them in any order you wish."

Speaking in Elven, Legaci kindly responds, "My thanks."

Speaking in Elven, Missoni whispers aloud, "There must be so many combinations."

Speaking to Missoni, you agree, "Just so, as a spoken conversation has infinite forms, so does the Elun."

You ask, "Now I am by no means salt-hearted, but I've managed to convince Aendir to practice a short repartee to share with you all, if you would like?"

Speaking in Elven, Gelynne says, "I can dance without stepping on anyone, but I am afraid I do not feel as fluid as some dancers I have seen."

Speaking in Elven, Eruien says, "Oh, please."

Speaking in Elven, Gelynne says, "Please do."

Speaking in Elven, Missoni nervously says, "I will try, perhaps."

Speaking lightly to Gelynne, you say, "The dancing guildmasters of Loenthra would say it is never too late to begin learning."

Speaking in Elven, Gelynne says, "I spent my time in the city with the jewelers, perhaps next time I should see the dance masters as well."

You request, "Let us move eastward to the Hall, where there is more room to move about?"

[Illithien Aerie, Astrapia Hall]
Marble pilasters bearing bas-reliefs of elven figures rise toward the arching ceiling. A banquet table oversees the cleared space of the dance floor from a raised dais, while opposite stands a low gilded imflass sideboard full of refreshments beneath a long mirror wrought in imflass filigree. Cushioned chairs, both around the table and along the far wall, offer ample seating. Pale starlight streams in over the railing of an open balcony onto the dance floor, the encroaching shadows kept at bay by gilded candelabra. You also see an ascending crystal walkway.
Obvious exits: west

You say, "Lady Vaillancourt has graciously agreed to play some accompaniment for us."

(Lissaya holds her lute close to her body, squares her shoulders, and takes a deep breath. Something in her stance and posture evokes the image of a young child about to perform for a music recital.)

Speaking in Elven, Lissaya murmurs, "Here goes nothing."

Lissaya wraps her fingers around the neck of her lute and strikes an ecstatic chord.

Paying studious attention to her lute's strings, Lissaya begins layering major seventh chords as a foundation to a song of inspiration.

(Aendir takes a few steps onto the floor with Elaejia, isolating themselves.)

Lissaya strums the lute's lower strings, adding a heart-trembling low rumble to the melody.

(Aendir pushes a hand through his hair as he glides in a slow circular approach to you, crossing his steps right over left until he is close enough to draw you into a light-fingered dancer's embrace.)

(Elaejia revolves around Aendir in a slow motion as they travel across the floor, lifting each of her knees high in succession to twine her calf for a heartbeat around his opposing leg.)

Uniana gazes admiringly at her surroundings.

Paying studious attention to her lute's strings, Lissaya begins layering major seventh chords as a foundation to a song of inspiration.

(Elaejia pulls away from Aendir and slips into a breathless reverse glissade, sliding a pointed toe along the floor to trace several quick, arcing steps backward, while drawing a hand on a path from her hip upward to reach out in a sweeping sideward motion.)

Speaking in Elven, Missoni murmurs, "Oh my."

(Aendir pursues you, taking several crossing steps toward her with his hands upraised before him in a pushing motion, and then an equal measure of parallel steps backward, this time with his hands forming a beckoning gesture in your direction.)

(Axhinde taps his foot in rhythm to the song.)

(Elaejia follows Aendir forward with while making one - two - three - crossing twirls across the floor, allowing her arms to extend outward and then inward with each revolution until she has reached him and drawn him back into her embrace.)

Eruien smiles faintly, a hint of nostalgia passing over his expression, as he watches the dance.

Lissaya strums the lute's lower strings, adding a heart-trembling low rumble to the melody.

(Aendir clasps your left hand and drives you into a tight revolving phrase with him, pulling his each of his knees high in turn to step with deliberate intention between your likewise high steps, briefly intertwining and freeing their limbs with every passing moment.)

Gelynne flushes slightly, some color reaching her cheeks.

(Lissaya's fingers sweep over the strings, coaxing limpid notes from her lute in a fiery melody. Her posture starts to relax as she loses herself in the music.)

(Aendir places his right hand on your lower back, pressing you firmly to him as he moves swiftly, your pointed toes just barely gracing the floor as he bears your weight in a reversed twirl.)

(Elaejia gathers her feet beneath her and turns in Aendir's embrace to face away from him while drawing them into a handful of crossing steps to the center of the floor, where she turns in his arms to stare into his eyes for a final moment as the music draws to a close.)

(Missoni's eyes grow wider as they follow the pair on the dance floor.)

(Legaci slowly glances upon Mercies before gently reaching for her hand and moves towards the dance floor. His gaze upon her eyes is warm before he moves to rest one palm against the small of her back as the other reach for her hand.)

You fan yourself.

With a final joyous flourish Lissaya stills her fingers on the lute, allowing the final bright chord to fade into silence.

Uniana applauds warmly.

Speaking in Elven, Gelynne says, "That was so beautiful."

You breathlessly remind, "A short repartee, I did say."

Missoni applauds warmly.

Speaking in Elven, Uniana sincerely praises, "What an exceptional display."

Speaking in Elven, Eruien says, "Quite breathtaking. It made me miss Ta'Loenthra very much."

Speaking in Elven to you, Rivienne exclaims, "And you said you weren't salt-hearted...I disagree!"

Speaking in Elven, Missoni happily enthuses, "It was beautiful. So full of energy and yet intimate as well."

Speaking in Elven, Aendir pleasedly says, "She is quite something."

You aver, "You are all far too kind, but I thank you."

Speaking to Eruien, you ask, "It does take one back, doesn't it?"

Speaking in Elven to Aendir, Eruien praises, "You were spectacular yourself."

Speaking in Elven to Eruien, Aendir says, "I had the finest teacher."

Speaking to Aendir, you say, "Now you've put yourself in trouble, I may request more dances of the Elun after all."

You lightly say, "The Aerie Gala tomorrow night will be a perfect place to show off all your steps should any feel motivated to learn more."

Speaking in Elven, Gelynne says, "And the music was beautiful."

Speaking in Elven, Gelynne says, "The perfect tune to dance to."

Speaking in Elven to Lissaya, Rivienne says, "It really was, well done."

Speaking in Elven, Lissaya admits, "I practiced most of the day yesterday to avoid embarassing myself."

Speaking in Elven, Gelynne says, "I am impressed and afraid I will look like a rolton in a glass shop."

You say, "Luckily the world is full of dances and I am sure there is one to suit any person."

Speaking in Elven, Lissaya says, "There's a type of mosaic art that involves placing shattered pieces of tile into a larger work, even roltons in glass shops have their uses."

Lissaya gazes in amusement at Gelynne.

Gelynne grins at Lissaya.

Speaking in Elven, Gelynne says, "That is a good way of expressing it."

Speaking in Elven, Eruien says, "Besides, what you feel when you dance is far more important than how you ultimately look... provided you are not being paid for it."

Speaking in Elven, Legaci lovingly concludes, "Thank you for that. Something I need practice with still."

Speaking to Eruien, you say, "I think the difference between the salt-hearted and the rest of us is perhaps the depth of that feeling."

Speaking in Elven to you, Missoni says, "That is a lovely sentiment."

Speaking in Elven, Gelynne says, "Thank you both for the lovely demonstration and the insight before hand."

Speaking in Elven, Lissaya says, "I'm quite looking forward to Lady Bayvel's demonstration tomorrow as well."

Speaking in Elven to you, Missoni says, "I was wondering a bit about the social norms surrounding dance in Ta'Loenthra."

Speaking to Lissaya, you say, "I have been hoping to convince Lady Bayvel to present on the dances of Illistim for years now."

You cock your head at Missoni.

Speaking in Elven to you, Missoni adds, "Such as whether it is common for longstanding partners to teach those less experienced, or if it considered too intimate for such a thing."

Speaking in Elven, Missoni says, "Perhaps it is something established between the pair."

Missoni ponders.

You thoughtfully say, "There are differing approaches by those who are experienced, yes -- some are the very guildmasters who teach entire classes, while others are as you say close partners."

You say, "On the other hand, there is a subculture of Elun dancers who revel in dancing with new and unfamiliar partners - improvising on the dancefloor as the spirit takes them."

Speaking in Elven, Missoni says, "Oh, I imagine that takes remarkable skill."

Speaking to Missoni, you say, "That is, I think, my favorite aspect of it -- its malleability."

Speaking kindly in Elven to you, Legaci states, "Thank you, my most humblest of thanks for teaching me of the the Dance of Eclipse, Orrery, Tide, or Tempest."

Speaking in Elven to you, Missoni says, "It seems to be as creative, as you said, as working with words or any other artistic medium."

Speaking in Elven to Missoni, Rivienne says, "Now you're thinking like a Loenthran."

Missoni blushes a dark red shade at Rivienne.

Speaking to Legaci, you say, "Thank you for choosing to spend your time with us, it means a great deal to us that you have all done so."