Who is the Tiny Dancer (from Elton John’s Hit Song)

Tiny Dancer is one of the most-loved songs among Elton John’s fans. It’s a great sing-along tune, as depicted in the movie, Almost Famous. 

You may wonder who inspired the lyrics to Tiny Dancer. We certainly asked ourselves that question.

We dove into the Internet to find out who the blue-jean baby in Tiny Dancer is. You may be surprised by the answer.

Let’s go!

Who Wrote Tiny Dancer?

Elton John brought Tiny Dancer to life, but his long-time songwriting collaborator, Bernie Taupin, wrote the lyrics.

Taupin, born in May 1950 in Lincolnshire, England, wanted to be a writer from the time he was a young teen. At the age of 15, he quit school and landed his first job in the print room of a local Lincolnshire newspaper. Realizing it might take longer than he had hoped to be an actual journalist, he soon left that job. 

For the next two years, he worked various part-time jobs. He spent the rest of his time hanging out with friends, drinking, and hitchhiking to youth club dances in nearby villages. 

In 1967, Bernie answered an ad placed by Liberty Records in the New Musical Express paper for a singer/songwriter. As fate would have it, Elton John, then known only by his birth name Reg Dwight, answered the same ad. 

Neither Taupin nor John passed the audition. However, John mentioned to one of the newspaper staff that he had a hard time writing lyrics. The man behind the desk handed him an envelope containing poems written by Bernie Taupin. 

Before meeting, both men had written a collection of about 20 songs. Once they began collaborating, they put Taupin’s words to John’s music. This winning combination would be the key to Elton John’s successful career. Elton always gave credit to Bernie Taupin as his musical partner. 

Taupin and John wrote and composed Tiny Dancer in 1971. It appeared as a track on Elton John’s fourth studio album Madman Across the Water.

So, Who is the Tiny Dancer?

On the album, the credits for Tiny Dancer include the words, “With love to Maxine.” Bernie Taupin married Maxine Fiebelman in 1971, the same year he wrote the song. Fiebelman, a proficient seamstress, would sew patches on Elton’s stage clothes.

In a 2019 interview with the New York Post, Maxine Taupin said, “I knew it was about me. I had been into ballet as a little girl and sewed patches on Elton’s jackets and jeans.”

It seems a likely story that Maxine inspired these lyrics.

Blue-jean baby
L.A. lady
Seamstress for the band

Pretty-eyed
Pirate smile
You'll marry a music man

Ballerina
You must've seen her
Dancing in the sand

However, Bernie Taupin has a different explanation about Tiny Dancer. When he visited Los Angeles in 1970, he was struck by how different the women were from his hometown in England. In a Rolling Stone interview, Taupin reminisced about his first encounters with women in California. 

He said, “They were these free spirits, sexy, all hip-huggers and lacy blouses, very ethereal the way they moved. They had this thing about embroidering your clothes. They wanted to sew patches on your jeans. They mothered you and slept with you. It was the perfect Oedipal complex.”

Taupin never claimed the song was about one woman in particular. From his explanation, it appears the Tiny Dancer is an amalgamation of many different women. 

So, lesson learned. Just because a writer or singer dedicates a piece to someone, it doesn’t necessarily mean they wrote it about them.

A Little More About Elton John

If you’re looking to stump your music-buff friends, ask them who Reginald Kenneth Dwight is. If they answer “Elton John,” you’ll know how deep their music knowledge goes. 

Born on March 25, 1947, in Middlesex, England, Elton John got an early start in music at age four. At this young age, he taught himself how to play the piano. Seven years later, John won a youth scholarship to attend London’s Royal Academy of Music.

While at the Academy, John learned to play the classics such as Bach, Chopin, and Handel. It wasn’t uncommon for him to listen to a composition once and then play it on the piano perfectly the first time.

In 1962, Elton John formed a band with two friends called Bluesology. ‘Reggie’ played the piano while Elton Dean played saxophone, and Long John Baldry provided vocals. By the mid-60s, the trio often opened for American touring soul bands like the Isley Brothers. 

Elton legally changed his name in 1972 to Elton Hercules John, an homage to his first two bandmates from Bluesology. 

John has released 31 studio albums plus numerous collaboration and soundtrack albums. He’s sold over 300 million records and is one of the best-selling artists of all time. Additionally, Elton has won five Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

Tony Danza or Tiny Dancer?

We can thank the popular TV series Friends for spreading a misquoted song lyric. In a 1996 episode, Lisa Kudrow’s flighty character Phoebe proclaims her favorite romantic song, Tiny Dancer, is about actor Tony Danza. Attempting to convince her friends of the true meaning of the song, she sings the line, “Hold me close, young Tony Danza.”

Apparently, Phoebe didn’t realize the song was written years before Danza began acting in TV and movie roles. No one knew who he was before the late 1970s. 

Tiny Dancer has been covered over 60 times by various musicians and even one actor. Taron Egerton, who portrayed Elton John in the 2019 movie Rocketman, did the song justice in the film. Egerton also sang Tiny Dancer while Elton played piano and accompanied him on vocals at a special performance before the film’s release. 

The rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers covered Tiny Dancer a few times during live shows. They also recorded a studio version for a compilation album they released in 1998 called Under the Covers: Essential Red Hot Chili Peppers

Other artists who’ve covered Tiny Dancer include English indie rock band Florence & the Machine and country artist Tim McGraw.

Still a Great Tune Whether Love Song or Commentary

Now you know the story behind one of Elton John’s most beloved tunes. While it wasn’t about Bernie’s wife specifically, he did dedicate it to her. So pull up Tiny Dancer and don’t be afraid to sing along, just like Kate Hudson or even Lisa Kudrow. Belt it out with us!

Hold me closer, tiny dancer
Count the headlights on the highway
Lay me down in sheets of linen
You had a busy day today

2 responses to “Who is the Tiny Dancer (from Elton John’s Hit Song)”

  1. There is a video out from 1971 when Elton wrote the music to Tiny Dancer. Elton says on the video that the lyric was written for Bernie’s girlfriend.

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