Misha Baryshnikov was born on January 27, 1948 in Riga, Latvia. His first audition was for the Riga Dance School at the age of eleven, but did not begin his studies until one year later. In 1963, he was asked to join the Riga dance troupe, through which he toured Leningrad and met Alexander Pushkin. Even though Misha was technically short for a dancer, (he was only 5'7'') he was permitted to study under Pushkin at the Vaganova School because he had exceptionally strong legs. In 1963 he performed in La Corsaire on the Kirov stage with his troupe from Vaganova. After Pushkin, he joined Leningrad's Kirov Ballet in 1967. His first professional performance with the company was the peasant pas de deux from Giselle. Touring with Kirov took him to London where he met Rudolph Nureyev. Some of the productions he was involved in were Sergie Yersky's TV production of "The Sun Also Rises," (1971) "The Tale of Serf Nikishka," (1971) "The Creation of the World," (1972) and "Giselle," (1972).
In June, 1974, while in Leningrad, he met Roland Petit, and joined a troupe that would perform throughout Canada. While in Canada, he disappeared for several days, and when he reappeared, it was to petition for political asylum from the Canadian Government. He had a few performances in Canada after that, but joined the American Ballet Theatre a few weeks later.
He was a principal dancer for the ABT and began a professional and romantic relationship with Gelsey Kirkland. His partnership with Roland Petit resulted in a performance of "Le Jeune Homme et la Mort" (1975). In 1976, Misha and Twyla Tharp worked on "Push Comes to Shove." Baryshnikov appeared in his first American movie, "The Turning Point," where he was nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor.