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Tightrope Walking

Tightrope walking, or wire-walking, is an old practice 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.

It is, in the simplest sense, walking on tightened ropes. The performer may use a balancing tool such as an umbrella, a long pole, or they may stretch out their arms. Tightrope walkers were staples in traveling circuses. These balancing performers walked on ropes high above the circus ring. There are other more dangerous versions of this as well.

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. Even more dangerous versions of sky-walking involve tightrope walkers stretching ropes 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 character, like that he or she has a very good sense of balance and body control, that they can perform graceful, lithe combat maneuvers. Depending on the background of the work, it can imply a character's history with a traveling troupe, ninja village or a circus, for example, pointing to useful further contacts for the character.

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.
  • In Noragami, Hiyori, after discovering her spiritual body's athletic abilities, runs and dances on the power lines.
  • Chiko, the title character of The Daughter of Twenty Faces, works as a tightrope walker when the gang goes undercover as a circus troupe. Later, she uses the skill to flee an angry mob by tightrope walking from one roof to another.

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.
  • Experimental montage film A Movie contains a clip of a tightrope walker, probably to set up the later montage of people and vehicles crashing, falling, and collapsing.
  • In The Circus, Charlie Chaplin is pressed into service as the tightrope walker after the regular tightrope walker doesn't show.

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 as a way to cross the countryside incognito, Elayne trains herself to become a tightrope walker. She originally creates a wider path with magic, but has to do it for real after learning that a dangerous foe is hunting her and would sense what she was doing.
  • 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.

Live Action TV
  • This is a common task on The Amazing Race. However, having so many untrained contestants means that lots of safety equipment is generally involved to keep those who are participating from falling and either hurting or killing themselves.

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 Mirrors 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.
  • Super Mario Sunshine contains many tightropes which Mario can cross and bounce on. Funnily enough, initially a new player would be nervous to cross one, and be very careful about walking in a straight line, but eventually testing reveals that the tightropes are, in fact, impossible to fall off of unless you intentionally jump off.
  • The thief in Quest for Glory gets a chance to demonstrate his balance on numerous occasions: from the humble beginnings of shuffling over a tree branch, to creeping around on tightropes twenty feet above the head of a demon wizard.
  • Featured as one of the balance games in Wii Fit.

Web Comics

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.
  • Slacklining is a variant involving a wider ribbon with some elasticity and slack to allow for acrobatic bouncing tricks.

...and I'm still tippin' on it.
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Monster ClownCircus IndexWorld's Strongest Man

alternative title(s): Tightrope Walker
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