Created By: Earnest on September 13, 2012 Last Edited By: Earnest on November 7, 2012
Troped

Graceful In Their Element

The Klutz on land, but graceful in their element.

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Formerly: Like A Duck To Water.

This character is much like a duck: they're awkward and clumsy on land, but put them in the water or in the air? Poetry in motion.

There's a lot of variation in this trope. Usually the character is The Klutz (or a less unintentionally destructive Mighty Glacier) on land, but if given a chance they're very Graceful in Their Element. The variation comes in on what that more natural element might be. On the water they could be a champion swimmer, skier or sailor. Ice-wise they could be an angelic skater. In the air they might be an Ace Pilot. If machines are involved they'll be a Badass Driver with Improbable Piloting Skills, and be able to turn a Humongous Mecha into an Impossibly Graceful Giant. If fighting, dancing or both are involved, they may be a consummate Dance Battler.

This Hidden Depth is used either for humor or to add a level of dichotomy to a character. It can make them seem a bit otherworldly; they're helpless on land, but they're so graceful outside of it that it seems like they don't really belong in this world. This can be further reinforced if the awkwardness is due to a physical disability, so it becomes a case where putting someone in a new medium where they're on a level playing field with everyone else lets them surpass their limitations.

To a certain extent this is Truth in Television. Moving in a different medium like asphalt, ice and zero-g vacuum requires an entirely new skill set that doesn't completely map out with bipedal terrestrial locomotion. While being naturally graceful and aware of kinesthetics makes learning skating or piloting easier, it's by no means a free pass.

Sister Trope to Eloquent in My Native Tongue.

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • In Ranma , while Akane doesn't know her own strength on land she is revealed to be a very gifted and graceful skater, unlike graceful-on-land Ranma.

Comic Books
  • In the DC Universe, this is the background of one of the Sea Devils. He's a musclebound oaf on land, but he takes up diving and discovers he's a graceful swimmer.
  • May apply to Awkwardman of the Inferior Five--none of their cases takes place underwater.
  • A milder example exists with Namor, the Sub-Mariner. While he is by no means clumsy on land, it's been established he is much more agile and extremely fast (not the mention stronger) when he is in his element: the sea.
  • Ehmte-Ciss-Ronn in Sillage. He is a short, four legged green alien lawyer, the last person you would expect of any athletic feats. However, he comes from an amphibian race and is a graceful swimmer, a fact that might catch his would-be assassins by surprise when he changes his office into a Shark Pool with a push of a button.

Literature
  • Philip, the protagonist of the novel Of Human Bondage, was born with a club foot and walks with a limp, but is a strong swimmer.
  • Victor Krum in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is described as duck-like on land, but fantastically gifted on a broomstick.

Film -- Animated
  • Sid the sloth in Ice Age is hardly graceful on land, but a throwaway gag showed him as a skilled ice skater while Diego and Manny slip and fall. This came in useful towards the end when it turns out he's equally good at skiing.
  • The Secret of NIMH has Jeremy the Crow. Awkward on land to the point of being The Ditz, but in the air he's a flying ace.

Film -- Live Action
  • Jar Jar from The Phantom Menace, anyone? Say what you want about his mental facilities and offensive racial stereotypes, but while this amphibian alien is a Lethal Klutz on land, he's a fine swimmer in water.

Literature
  • In the Vorkosigan Saga, the Quaddies are a species gene-engineered to have four arms and no legs. In a gravity field, they're awkward and helpless, but in zero-G, they excel. Miles has rarely seen anything as beautiful as their zero-G ballet.

Live-Action TV
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In one episode Melora Pazlar, a Starfleet officer from a light world, is assigned to the station; because her muscles are designed for a light world she has to wear a special full-body brace in order to get around, which she does very clumsily. At one point some baddies have invaded; the crew turns off the Artificial Gravity, and she's the only one who can move about, quickly taking out the bad guys.
  • Farscape: Rygel XVI. Diminutive toad-like creature who rarely even walks on his own, preferring to use his Throne-Sled (hoverchair) for movement. This is because he's aquatic. When we see him swimming in "The Peacekeeper Wars" miniseries, he's extremely graceful.

Western Animation
  • In The Tick, the character Sewer Urchin becomes much less of a Rain Man-like character when a case actually takes the group into the sewers. (The Tick and Arthur, conversely, begin to act the way Sewer Urchin does when he's above ground.)
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender Teo is a master pilot able to outperform Aang without being able to Airbend. He's also in a wheelchair.

Video Games
  • In Super Mario Bros. 3, the frog suit is great for swimming, but not for traversing land.
  • On a similar note, Kine the Fish from Kirby's Dream Land 2.
  • Plesiosaurus and pteranodon from Adventure Island are very clumsy on land, but they are very good swimmers and flyers respectively.
  • Joker from Mass Effect. He can only barely walk (slowly) on feet due to brittle bone disease but is probably the best human starship pilot alive.
    • The Hanar are basically sentient jellyfish, and can only move on ground through the use of special fields that hold them up. In their native oceans, however, they can apparently move with astonishing speed and agility.
  • Rena Hirose from Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere may be a borderline example: she is not extraordinary clumsy but confined to indoors due to allergy to sunlight; flying planes with closed cockpits and external cameras is the only means for her to see the outside--and so she became a distinguished Ace Pilot.

Real Life
  • Seals. On shore they move with a kind of undulating motion that looks almost comical. Once they get into the water, they can give dolphins a run for their money.
  • Most species of procellariiformes (the order of seabirds that includes albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters) are extremely clumsy on land, due to the large wingspans that make them graceful and efficient in the air.
  • Penguins to add to real life.


Community Feedback Replies: 27
  • September 13, 2012
    StarValkyrie
    The phrase "Like a Duck to Water" is when someone instantly does something well. That's not what this trope is so you need a different trope name.
  • September 13, 2012
    spacemarine50
  • September 13, 2012
    SKJAM
    • In the DC Universe, this is the background of one of the Sea Devils. He's a musclebound oaf on land, but he takes up diving and discovers he's a graceful swimmer.

    • May apply to Awkwardman of the Inferior Five--none of their cases takes place underwater.
  • September 14, 2012
    rodneyAnonymous
    Philip, the protagonist of the novel Of Human Bondage, was born with a club foot and walks with a limp, but is a strong swimmer.

    Also, I like idiosyncratic trope names, but that expression means something else.
  • September 14, 2012
    MorganWick
    Well, it could apply if the character turns out to be an Instant Expert at swimming...
  • September 14, 2012
    Arivne
    Like A Duck To Water is a Stock Phrase and will get this proposal sent to the Cut List if it's launched with that title (see No New Stock Phrases).
  • September 14, 2012
    JohnnyCache
    Hm, maybe Only Cool When In Their Element? Anyway....

    • In The Tick, the character Sewer Urchin becomes much less of a Rain Man-like character when a case actually takes the group into the sewers. (The Tick and Arthur, conversely, begin to act the way Sewer Urchin does when he's above ground.)
  • September 16, 2012
    Psi001
    • Jeremy the crow in The Secret Of NIMH spends most of the film (and it's sequel) as The Klutz, however he is skillful and majestic when flying. This doesn't come as much more of a relief to Mrs Brisby however, since she is terrified of heights.
  • September 16, 2012
    Earnest
    The Data Vampires keep deleting my update. Parking it here in the meantime.

    New title: Graceful In Their Element.

    This character is much like a duck: they're awkward and clumsy on land, but put them in the water or in the air? Poetry in motion.

    There's a lot of variation in this trope. Usually the character is The Klutz (or a less unintentionally destructive Mighty Glacier) on land, but if given a chance they're very Graceful In Their Element. The variation comes in on what that more natural element might be. On the water they could be a champion swimmer, skier or sailor. Ice-wise they could be an angelic skater. In the air they might be an Ace Pilot. If machines are involved they'll be a Badass Driver with Improbable Piloting Skills, and be able to turn a Humongous Mecha into an Impossibly Graceful Giant. If fighting, dancing or both are involved, they may be a consummate Dance Battler.

    This Hidden Depth is used either for humor or to add a level of dichotomy to a character. It can make them seem a bit otherworldly; they're helpless on land, but they're so graceful outside of it that it seems like they don't really belong in this world. This can be further reinforced if the awkwardness is due to a physical disability, so it becomes a case where putting someone in a new medium where they're on a level playing field with everyone else lets them surpass their limitations.

    To a certain extent this is Truth In Television. Moving in a different medium like asphalt, ice and zero-g vacuum requires an entirely new skill set that doesn't completely map out with bipedal terrestrial locomotion. While being naturally graceful and aware of kinesthetics makes learning skating or piloting easier, it's by no means a free pass.


    Examples:

    Anime and Manga
    • In Ranma One Half, while Akane doesn't know her own strength on land she is revealed to be a very gifted and graceful skater, unlike graceful-on-land Ranma.

    Comic Books
    • In the DC Universe, this is the background of one of the Sea Devils. He's a musclebound oaf on land, but he takes up diving and discovers he's a graceful swimmer.
    • May apply to Awkwardman of the Inferior Five--none of their cases takes place underwater.

    Literature
    • Philip, the protagonist of the novel Of Human Bondage, was born with a club foot and walks with a limp, but is a strong swimmer.
    • Victor Krum in Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire is described as duck-like on land, but fantastically gifted on a broomstick.

    Film -- Animated
    • Sid the sloth in Ice Age is hardly graceful on land, but a throwaway gag showed him as a skilled ice skater while Diego and Manny slip and fall. This came in useful towards the end when it turns out he's equally good at skiing.

    Live Action TV
    • While he's not really clumsy, Wash in Firefly is an ace pilot.

    Western Animation
    • In The Tick, the character Sewer Urchin becomes much less of a Rain Man-like character when a case actually takes the group into the sewers. (The Tick and Arthur, conversely, begin to act the way Sewer Urchin does when he's above ground.)
    • In Avatar The Last Airbender Teo is a master pilot able to outperform Aang without being able to Airbend. He's also in a wheelchair.
  • September 16, 2012
    Koveras
    If Wash counts, maybe Joker from Mass Effect does, too? He can only barely walk (slowly) on feet due to brittle bone decease but is probably the best human starship pilot alive.
  • September 16, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Sister(?) trope to Eloquent In My Native Tongue.

    • Star Trek Deep Space Nine: In one episode Melora Pazlar, a Starfleet officer from a light world, is assigned to the station; because her muscles are designed for a light world she has to wear a special full-body brace in order to get around, which she does very clumsily. At one point some baddies have invaded; the crew turns off the Artificial Gravity, and she's the only one who can move about, quickly taking out the bad guys.
  • September 17, 2012
    ScoutsGirlfriend
  • September 19, 2012
    Diask
  • September 19, 2012
    Earnest
    ^^^^ You've got a point, Wash isn't clumsy enough to really qualify, otherwise this trope might verge on People Sit On Chairs. Joker does qualify though.
  • September 19, 2012
    Tallens
    Also from Mass Effect:

    • The Hanar are basically sentient jellyfish, and can only move on ground through the use of special fields that hold them up. In their native oceans, however, they can apparently move with astonishing speed and agility.
  • September 19, 2012
    Tallens
    Real Life:
    • Seals. On shore they move with a kind of undulating motion that looks almost comical. Once they get into the water, they can give dolphins a run for their money.
  • September 19, 2012
    aurora369
    Jar Jar, anyone? Say what you want about his mental facilities and offencive racial stereotypes, but while this amphibian alien is a Lethal Klutz on land, he's a fine swimmer in water.
  • September 24, 2012
    JakeTheYak
    Real Life
    • Most species of procellariiformes (the order of seabirds that includes albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters) are extremely clumsy on land, due to the large wingspans that make them graceful and efficient in the air.
  • September 24, 2012
    AP
    • A milder example exists with Namor, the Sub-Mariner. While he is by no means clumsy on land, it's been established he is much more agile and extremely fast (not the mention stronger) when he is in his element: the sea.
  • September 24, 2012
    Xtifr
    Literature
    • In the Vorkosigan Saga, the Quaddies are a species gene-engineered to have four arms and no legs. In a gravity field, they're awkward and helpless, but in zero-G, they excel. Miles has rarely seen anything as beautiful as their zero-G ballet.
  • October 24, 2012
    Tallens
    Bump
  • October 24, 2012
    LOAD
    Penguins to add to real life.
  • October 24, 2012
    Mozgwsloiku
    Ehmte-Ciss-Ronn in Sillage. He is a short, four legged green alien lawyer, the last person you would expect of any athletic feats. However, he comes from an amphibian race and is a graceful swimmer, a fact that might catch his would-be assassins by surprise when he changes his office into a Shark Pool with a push of a button.
  • October 24, 2012
    fulltimeD
    Farscape: Rygel XVI. Diminutive toad-like creature who rarely even walks on his own, preferring to use his Throne-Sled (hoverchair) for movement. This is because he's aquatic. When we see him swimming in "The Peacekeeper Wars" miniseries, he's extremely graceful.
  • October 24, 2012
    Psi001
    Did you get The Secret Of Nimh example?
  • October 25, 2012
    Koveras
    Rena Hirose from Ace Combat 3 Electrosphere may be a borderline example: she is not extraordinary clumsy but confined to indoors due to allergy to sunlight; flying planes with closed cockpits and external cameras is the only means for her to see the outside--and so she became a distinguished Ace Pilot.
  • November 7, 2012
    McKathlin
    • The Swan Princess has Speed the turtle, whose name seems non-indicative because he walks slowly and talks slowly. But in the water, he's incredibly fast.
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