Toni Bentley was born in Perth, Australia of an Australian father, a biologist, and British mother, a lawyer. Leaving Perth at age two, she lived in Bristol, England for four years, prior to emigrating to the United States. She took her first ballet class at age four in England and then entered the School of American Ballet, the official school of New York City Ballet, at age ten and studied there for seven years. At seventeen she was invited to join George Balanchine's New York City Ballet and danced there for ten years.
She is the author of five books -- all named Notable Books of the Year by the New York Times. Her first, Winter Season, A Dancer's Journal, was published when she was twenty-two and is a diary of her life as a young dancer in the New York City Ballet under Balanchine's tenure. Several years later a hip injury ended her career on the stage. She went on the write Holding On to the Air: the Autobiography of Suzanne Farrell (co-authored with Farrell), Costumes by Karinska, about Balanchine's great Russian costume designer, Sisters of Salome, a cultural history of the femme fatale and origins of modern striptease, and The Surrender, An Erotic Memoir, a story of an obsessive love affair.
She has written essays and reviews for The New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, the Los Angeles Times, Vanity Fair, Playboy, Rolling Stone, The New Republic, BookForum, Vogue, Allure, Arts & Antiques, Smithsonian, Ballet Review, Dance Magazine, and CR Fashionbook. She has given talks at Harvard University, the Oscar Wilde Society in London, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University, the University of North Florida, and the Philoctetes Society in New York.
In 2004 ReganBooks/HarperCollins published The Surrender, An Erotic Memoir, which was named one of the 100 Notable Books of the year by the New York Times, and one of the Best Books of the Year by Publishers Weekly. It has been translated into eighteen languages. In 2008 she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2010 her story "The Bad Lion," originally published in the New York Review of Books, was selected for "Best American Essays 2010" by editor Christopher Hitchens.
A one-woman play adaptation of "The Surrender" -- La rendición -- starring the Swiss-German actress Isabelle Stoffel, had its world premiere in Madrid at the Microteatro Por Dinero in January 2012 and was then produced by the Spanish National Theatre (Centro Dramático Nacional) in January 2013 at the historic Teatro María Guerrero in Madrid playing alongside a production of Federico Garcia Lorca's "Yerma." The play had its English-language world premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2013 The play will then tour Spain and South America in the fall of 2013 as well as having its German-language premiere in Switzerland and Germany in 2014. In November 2013 she is an invited speaker at the THiNK Conference in Goa, India.