He was born on Nov. 25, 1955 in the small northern town of Ferrara, Italy. An only child of working-class parents, Tonioli began to dance before he could talk. His family did not own a television until he was seven years of age, so he often went to the movies to watch Hollywood musicals with his father, who admired American dance icons Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. At 18, Tonioli joined a dance troupe and moved to Paris, where he became a successful choreographer. Pop bands sought out his services, and he worked on numerous commercials and in films. While his dancing career flourished, the grief he experienced after the death of his mother in 1994 and then his father in 2001 nearly ended it. He worked through his pain with the help of his chosen art form, choreographing films like the dramas "Little Voice" (1998) and "Me Without You" (2001), and an episode of the hit comedy skit "French and Saunders" (BBC, 1987- ) starring Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders. Tonioli also worked with A-list music stars such as Elton John, Tina Turner and Freddie Mercury on their music videos and concert tours.
In 2004, Tonioli became a household name in the U.K. as one of the judges of the reality competition series "Strictly Come Dancing" (BBC1, 2004- ), the American version of "Dancing with the Stars." The following year, he also started appearing as one of the judges on "Dancing with the Stars," where he joined fellow "Strictly Come Dancing" judge Len Goodman and American dancer Carrie Ann Inaba. The flamboyant and wildly expressive Tonioli perfectly rounded out the personalities on the judging panel, complementing the direct and stern Goodman, and the charming and sympathetic Inaba. Tonioli often delivered some of the most talked-about critiques, including one that sparked a bitter feud between him and balladeer Michael Bolton, who was a contestant during the 2010 season. Bolton told People magazine that he expected an apology from the outspoken Tonioli after he called Bolton's jive "the worst he's ever seen." Tonioli never issued an apology, a move that even show's producers defended.