The song was written by Taupin to capture the spirit of California in 1970 encapsulated by the many beautiful women he met there. A common misconception concerning this song is that it was written for Maxine Feibelman, Bernie Taupin's first wife. Rather, the song was simply dedicated to her on the album Madman Across the Water.
Another common misconception is that the song references Billy Joel in the line "Piano man he makes his stand". Joel's song was based on experiences that occurred in 1972, while "Tiny Dancer" was recorded in 1971.
The song features a piano-based melody during verses and an arrangement that at the start features pedal steel guitar and light percussion but, transitioning subtly halfway through one of the choruses, by the end is driven by Paul Buckmaster's dynamic strings, along with a barely heard backing choir.
Due to the song lacking a strong hook, "Tiny Dancer" was initially a non-starter as a single in the US, reaching only #41 on the U.S. pop chart, and was not even released as a single in the UK. The song fared better in Canada, where John had much of his early commercial breakthrough success, peaking at #19. It was also a hit in Australia, peaking at #13. Eventually, the song slowly became one of John's most popular songs even in the territories that initially failed to embrace it, and the full-length version is now a fixture on North American, UK and Australian adult contemporary and rock radio stations.
A country version of this song was created by Disk Eyes Productions for a 'Gone Country' series featuring the songs of Elton John in 2005.
On 8 April 2013, Caroline Glaser performed "Tiny Dancer" before a live audience and celebrity judges in her national TV debut on the hit show The Voice. On the Season Five final performances, Will Champlin and his coach, Adam Levine, sang it for the collaboration portion.
In the season 2 episode of The Office called "The Dundies," Michael Scott sings the song but changing he words to "You have won a tiny Dundie," an office award, before bar patrons mock him, calling out "Sing it, Elton!" Later the "Tiny Dancer" chorus plays over the final scene as Jim Halpert watches Pam Beesly and Angela Martin drive away.
Beginning in April 2015 the Bennington radio show on Sirius XM began using Tiny Dancer as their ending theme song.
The UK based department store chain John Lewis, use the song on their August 2015 insurance advert.