Created By: IrishZombie on July 6, 2011 Last Edited By: Lakija on January 18, 2014
Troped

Tightrope Walking

Incredible balance allows for characters to walk or run on thin ropes or wires.

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Trope

Tightrope walking, also known as wire-walking, is a talent that has been around for a very long time in many different regions. In fictional works, a character, (whether it be through training or from magic), is able to walk, or even run, across very thin surfaces.

First, let's take a look at tightrope walking. It is, in the simplest sense, walking on tightened ropes. Optionally the performer may use a balancing tool such as an umbrella, a long pole, of they may stretch out their arms. Tightrope walkers were staples in traveling circuses. These balancing performers walked on ropes high above the circus ring. Although this skill is cool in and of itself, there are other more dangerous versions.

High-wire walkers walk generally about 20+ feet off the ground. Skywalkers take their stunts to Dangerous Heights by walking between skyscrapers, poles, and other terrifying places. It has been pushed Up to Eleven with ropes stretching over The Grand Canyon without any climbing gear to speak of.

Being able to walk on ropes is not a very common skill in Real Life, and reveals a lot about a characte, like that he or she has a very good sense of balance and body control, that they can perform graceful, lithe combat maneuvers, or they have a flamboyant streak. Depending on the general background of the work, it can imply a character's history with a traveling troupe, ninja village or a circus, for example, all pointing to useful further contacts for the character.

Characters can be forced into these situations if they are stranded high above ground, and this trope takes into account all objects these skilled balancers walk and run on. These include but are not limited to ropes, wires, thin railings, chains, power lines, or any other super thin surfaces.

Compare Electric Slide for more "shocking" examples, Grind Boots for when skateboards are simply too expensive, and The Precarious Ledge for when high wire walkers get cold feet. Also compare I Have the High Ground, and promptly thwack them round the ankles. That'll teach 'em.


Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • The eponymous warriors in Claymore can do this, and one of them, Anastasia, has even weaponized this ability, using her super-strong and super-thin hair for Not Quite Flight. Other warriors can also use her hair to "float" in the air.

Comic Books
  • A variation of this trope happened in a Disney Comics Donald Duck story, when Daisy Duck is on a building site and walks out onto a bouncy, springboard-like plank to retrieve a hammer left near one edge where it could fall on someone. She points out that (in this story) she's a ballet teacher and such perfect balance is nothing special for her.
  • In Superman's early appearances he couldn't fly; he got around Metropolis by running quickly along telephone wires. He explains on more than one occasion that as long as he jumps over the connectors at the telephone poles he's in no danger of electrocution.

Film — Animated
  • Spirited Away, Chihiro has to attempt this once on a thin metal pipe to reach a far ladder. At the end, however, she is absolutely terrified when she actually makes it.

Film — Live-Action
  • In The Lord of the Rings, we see Legolas running along a chain to attack the cave troll.
  • In Heroic Trio, one of the main heroines is introduced, running along powerlines, She even does the splits between two of them while throwing knives at a foe.
  • Exploring the Klowns' tent/ship in Killer Klowns from Outer Space, the characters encounter a passage where they must walk a tightrope in a fog; they manage, but wobble enough to show it's not easy. The weirdness of the scene increases when they reach the end of the passage, where the rope is bent into steps which lead to the next doorway.

Literature
  • Legolas in The Lord of the Rings. Similar to the movie example, in Lorien, Legolas ran along a rope to get to the other side of a stream. It was mentioned that elves did this sort of thing a lot if a bridge was not available. He points out nobody else in the group is an Elf, so it is probably easy for them.
  • The Wheel of Time: When joining Valan Luca's traveling circus in The Shadow Rising, Elayne trains herself to become a tightrope walker.
  • Chronicles of the Kencyrath: Jame has excellent balance and training in Le Parkour, and frequently ropewalks. The Kendar companions, however, often has a great fear of heights despite having great balance. The officer academy of Tentir makes use of that, by having the cadets ropewalk in order to learn how to control their fear and their bodies, and as a test.
  • In The California Voodoo Game, Acacia crosses a rope strung over a chasm in the Crystal Maze. The narrative mentions that she's actually capable of such a feat for real, although in-Game it's her character's skill that determines her chances.

Tabletop Games
  • There is a Skill Score responsible for this type of movement in the d20 System and other RPG systems based on it.

Video Games
  • In Final Fantasy X, Team Tidus doesn't so much run along wires as skitch down them. He and his posse have impressive Grind Boots.
  • Averted in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, in that your human form can't move on ropes. Your wolf form is perfectly able to do so, do a jumping 180 on the spot, and even leap off as if he were on solid ground rather than a swaying rope no thicker than his leg.
  • In Assassin's Creed games, Alta´r, Ezio, and Connor can all run on certain incredibly thin ropes, wires, and the like.
  • In Mirror's Edge Faith can run on thin pipes and planks if need be. She can also run on cranes, but this is not automatic and dependent on the skill of the player.
  • Discussed in a dialogue option in Neverwinter Nights 2 Storm of Zehir. When investigating the wreck of the trade ship Vigilant, if your party contains a rogue they can observe that they've stood on ropes thinner than the one that snapped in the storm. It broke because it had been partly cut through by a saboteur.

Western Animation
  • On Avatar: The Last Airbender, Ty Lee does this in the episode "The Boiling Rock", to get to the cable car: She sprints across a gondola cable for a rematch with fellow Action Girl, Suki.
  • In Mother Up, Apple becomes obsessed with winning pretty trophies; the last one in the case is for tightrope walking, and was retired since the last winner fell off and died. For some reason, the school still has the tightrope set up and Apple walks it in a fugue state (unless the ghost she sees is real, hard to say.)

Real Life
  • This is often done by Le Parkour practicioners.
  • Many acrobats have made a career of this trope.
    • Dean Potter and Mustafa Danger are two such practitioners of Tight Rope Walking.
    • The Flying Wallendas are a famous trapeze/tightrope walking family of circus performers. Most of them have died when falling from incredible heights during walks.
  • Jultagi, or Eoreum, is an ancient Korean tradition of rope-walking that is still practiced.
  • Gibbons are able to run on long branches. Just like humans do when performing, gibbons stretch out their arms as balancers.

...and I'm still tippin' on it.
Community Feedback Replies: 49
  • July 6, 2011
    MiinU
    Western Animation

    • Ty Lee does this, during The Boiling Rock part 2, when she sprints across a gondola cable for a rematch with fellow Action Girl, Suki.
  • July 7, 2011
    Bisected8
    • One of Cole's abilities in In Famous. When he gets the revelvant power he can also grind along active power lines.
    • Spiderman does this occasionally (although he normally uses his web lines to swing).
    • Tomba seems to be able to do this (since rope acts like any other solid surface).
  • July 7, 2011
    randomsurfer
    Superman did this in his first appearance, before he could fly.
  • July 7, 2011
    RazorSmile
  • July 7, 2011
    MetaFour
  • July 7, 2011
    elwoz
    All installments of Assassins Creed have lots of ridiculously thin things that the protagonists can balance on and use to Le Parkour their way from A to B. They don't want to run while doing it (they move at walking speed even if you're holding down the run button) but they can be forced to (hold the sprint button and they'll move about as fast as when non-sprint running on the ground) and don't seem to have any difficulty with balance when doing so.
  • July 8, 2011
    thereisnospoon
    Compare Rail Grinding. (Wait, we don't have that?)

    Edit: They do. It's called Grind Boots.
  • July 8, 2011
    Andygal
    Kitai from Codex Alera walks on a rope at least once, and says she could run along ropes as a child.
  • July 9, 2011
    Stratadrake
    • Sly Cooper acquires this ability halfway through the first game. It also doubles as an improvised rail grinding (if the surface is slippery, such as with several vines in the swamp area).
  • July 9, 2011
    IrishZombie
    Due to how busy I have suddenly found myself, this YKTTW is now Up For Grabs. Any takers?
  • July 10, 2011
    hotrods4ben
    You should probably say something about how human reflexes do NOT work this way for regular people.
  • April 3, 2012
    SingingRain
    The metalbender cops in The Legend Of Korra can navigate Republic City along chains.

    Edit: This is Electric Slide.
  • April 3, 2012
    ParadiscaCorbasi
    • In Final Fantasy X, Team Tidus doesn't so much run along wires as skitch down them. Same impossible balance trick though.
  • April 4, 2012
    Antigone3
    I'm pretty sure there was a Golden Age superhero whose main form of movement was running along telephone wires. Let me look that up.
  • April 4, 2012
    Shnakepup
    Would this count examples in anime and old kung-fu movies where someone jumps on top of a sword and somehow balances/floats on it? Or examples from movies like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon where people run on the tops of trees?
  • September 1, 2013
    AgProv
    Literature:
    • Legolas in Lord Of the Rings: in Lorien he runs lightly across a river on a single rope, then points out nobody else in the group is an Elf, so could it be made easier for them?
  • September 1, 2013
    DAN004
    Often done by Le Parkour practicioners.
  • September 2, 2013
    Arivne
    Electric Slide is a Sub Trope of this limited to electrical power lines.
  • September 2, 2013
    Chabal2
    • Averted in Twilight Princess, in that your human form can't move on ropes. Your wolf form is perfectly able to do so, do a jumping 180 on the spot, and even leap off as if he were on solid ground rather than a swaying rope no thicker than his leg.
      • Averted in Skyward Sword, where you can only walk across them. So can your enemies, but they move even slower.
  • September 2, 2013
    Melkior
    Comic Books
    • A variation of this trope happened in a Disney Comics Donald Duck story, when Daisy Duck is on a building site and walks out onto a bouncy, springboard-like plank to retrieve a hammer left near one edge where it could fall on someone. She points out that (in this story) she's a ballet teacher and such perfect balance is nothing special for her.
  • September 2, 2013
    AP
    Film

    • In The Lord Of The Rings, we see Legolas running along a chain to attack the cave troll.
    • In Heroic Trio, one of the main heroines is introduced, running along powerlines. She even does the splits between two of them while throwing knives at a foe.

    Literature

    • In The Lord Of The Rings, similar to the movie example, Legolas ran along a rope to get to the other side of a stream. It was mentioned that elves did this sort of thing a lot if a bridge was not available.
  • October 8, 2013
    Lakija
    ^x7 Should there be some kind of Super Balancing Trope for all this stuff? Hmm... Like for balancing on super thin stuff?
  • October 9, 2013
    DAN004
    Jumping on top of a sword is Blade Run.
  • October 9, 2013
    Snicka
    Real Life: Gibbons often run on branches and jungle vines like this, balancing with their very long arms.
  • October 9, 2013
    Koveras
    • The eponymous warriors in Claymore can do this, and one of them, Anastasia, has even weaponized this ability, using her superstrong and superthin hair for Not Quite Flight. Other warriors can also use her hair to "float" in the air.
  • October 9, 2013
    RandomSurfer
    You have the Daisy Duck example listed twice.
  • October 9, 2013
    StarSword
    Video Games:
    • Discussed in a dialogue option in Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir. When investigating the wreck of the trade ship Vigilant, if your party contains a rogue they can observe that they've stood on ropes thinner than the one that snapped in the storm. It broke because it had been partly cut through by a saboteur.
  • October 9, 2013
    KomodoClassic
    Western Animation: On Avatar: the Last Airbender, Ty Lee does this in the episode "The Boiling Rock", to get to the cable car.
  • December 17, 2013
    Lakija
    bump-
  • December 18, 2013
    randomsurfer
    Videogames: In Subway Surfer the player can run along overhead wires provided he has jumped up in the right area.
  • December 18, 2013
    kjnoren
    Why not go for the real-world term, Tightrope Walking?

    Drop the Badass reference in the description. And the ninja reference, too, please.
  • December 18, 2013
    Lakija
    ^Let's do it. Sounds like good suggestions to me. :)
  • December 18, 2013
    kjnoren
    Literature:

    • The Wheel Of Time: When joining Valan Luca's travelling circus in The Shadow Rising, Elayne trains herself to become a tightrope walker.
    • Chronicles Of The Kencyrath: Jame has excellent balance and training in Le Parkour, and frequently ropewalks. The Kendar companions, however, often has a great fear of heights despite having great balance. The officer academy of Tentir makes use of that, by having the cadets ropewalk in order to learn how to control their fear and their bodies, and as a test.
  • December 31, 2013
    Koveras
    • There is a Skill Score responsible for this type of movement in the D 20 System and other RPG systems based on it.
  • December 31, 2013
    SKJAM
    Western Animation—

    In Mother Up, Apple becomes obsessed with winning pretty trophies; the last one in the case is for tightrope walking, and was retired since the last winner fell off and died. For some reason, the school still has the tightrope set up and Apple walks it in a fugue state (unless the ghost she sees is real, hard to say.)
  • December 31, 2013
    Paradisesnake
    Namespaced and italicized the examples.
  • January 1, 2014
    randomsurfer
    @myself way up there - it's zero context so let me add some.

    • In Superman's early appearances he couldn't fly; he got around Metropolis by running quickly along telephone wires. He explains on more than one occasion that as long as he jumps over the connectors at the telephone poles he's in no danger of electrocution.
    • Real Life: The Flying Wallendas are a famous trapeze/tightrope walking family of circus performers. Most of them have died when falling from incredible heights during walks.
  • January 2, 2014
    KomodoClassic
    Also called "wire walking"—I'm not sure which would be the preferred term.
  • January 6, 2014
    kjnoren
    Some minor ideas on changes to the description:


    Fighting characters who use this trope usually always have excellent balancing skills, and is a Dance Battler with graceful, lithe combat maneuvers.

    Compare Electric Slide for more "shocking" examples, Grind Boots for when skateboards are simply too expensive, and The Precarious Ledge for ledge walking. See also I Have The High Ground.

    (Bah, I Have The High Ground is one poor trope name, impossible work into a sentence in a decent way.)
  • January 6, 2014
    kjnoren
    Oh, and have a hat.
  • January 6, 2014
    kjnoren
    I also think we should have a redirect for Tightrope Walker—makes for more flexibility when writing sentences.
  • January 7, 2014
    peccantis
    Needs more definition of the trope. Fictional Instances Of Tightrope Walking is People Sit On Chairs.
  • January 7, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ It's a Spectacle trope and Rule Of Cool trope.
  • January 8, 2014
    kjnoren
    ^^ I think a lot of tropers use People Sit On Chairs too freely here on YKTTW.

    A character can be described with the words "he/she is a tightrope walker", unlike say, "he/she is a walker". We get to know several useful things about the character, like that he or she has a very good sense of balance and body control, and likely has a flamboyant streak. Depending on the general background of the work, it can imply a character background with a travelling troupe, a circus, or other, all pointing to useful further contacts for the character.
  • January 8, 2014
    Koveras
    Being able to walk on ropes is not a very common skill in Real Life, and can tell a lot about a character (e.g. that he is extremely agile and has great balance, that he may be a circus acrobat, a ninja, etc.). I say that's tropable enough.
  • January 14, 2014
    Lakija
    Okay. Let me tackle each new response. ^^^^^^^ Thank you kindly. I'll make those edits. Also , how about "Also compare I Have The High Ground, and immediately thwack their ankles."

    ^^^^^^ Thanks! I'll wear it!

    ^^^^^Yeah. Good idea! I don't know how to do that... but We'll figure it out.

    ^^^^How much more definition can you get? I begin with the real thing, immediately explain the fictional version all in Paragraph 1. Then I give some history in two blocks, and get back to fiction. If you can't be bothered to read or understand the article, the very first paragraph is plenty. At the most I'll rearrange the paragraphs and see if that's clearer. And no, it's not People Sit On Chairs. If that were the case, everyone in fiction would walk on tightropes to get to work and school. Get damn tired of that phrase... Okay, rage over. Sorry I blew up. Forgive me?

    ^^^I'll add those, and hopefully the "confusion" will be cleared up.

    ^^YES. Thank you. I should incorporate those words into the trope descrp.

    ^Yep.
  • January 16, 2014
    Lakija
    Last Bump. (Hoping for a couple more examples)
  • January 16, 2014
    DAN004
    Launch plz.
  • January 17, 2014
    SharleeD
    • Exploring the Klowns' tent/ship in Killer Klowns From Outer Space, the characters encounter a passage where they must walk a tightrope in a fog; they manage, but wobble enough to show it's not easy. The weirdness of the scene increases when they reach the end of the passage, where the rope is bent into steps which lead to the next doorway.

    • In The California Voodoo Game, Acacia crosses a rope strung over a chasm in the Crystal Maze. The narrative mentions that she's actually capable of such a feat for real, although in-Game it's her character's skill that determines her chances.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=q49irrynddw6jirofizytf4k&trope=DiscardedYKTTW