Mikhail Baryshnikov: How A Ballet Dancer Became A Cold War Celeb

Russian-born American ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov with hair and makeup crew during the American Ballet Theatre's production of 'Other Dances,' New York, New York, 1980. (Photo by Brownie Harris/Getty Images)

When he defected from the Soviet Union in 1974, Mikhail Baryshnikov was arguably the best ballet dancer in the world. His status as a defector certainly made him the most famous dancer in the world. During the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union fought many proxy battles that didn't involve weapons -- often at the Olympics, but also in the arena of culture. The U.S. was all too happy to welcome writers and artists who fled (or were expelled from) the oppressive Soviet state. 

Americans aren't generally fans of ballet, but everyone knew the name Baryshnikov for what he represented -- and it didn't hurt that he was (and still is) exceptionally good looking.