Maya Mikhaylovna Plisetskaya was born on November 20, 1925, in Moscow, Soviet Union to the family of a diplomat, engineer, and mine director Mikhail Plisetski and a silent-film actress Rachel Messerer-Plisetskaya. On her mother's side, the family was a Jewish theatrical dynasty. For over 70 years the Messerer family played a prominent part in the Soviet theater and films, as well as in the ballet world. Her mother was a well-known silent-film actress. In 1938, her father, Michael Plisetski was executed during the Stalinist purges, possibly because he had hired a friend who had been a secretary to Leon Trotsky. Her mother Rachel Messerer-Plisetskaya (aka Ra Messerer), was arrested and sent to a labor camp (Gulag) in Kazakhstan, together with Plisetskaya's seven-month-old baby brother. Thereupon Maya was adopted by her maternal aunt, the ballerina Sulamith Messerer until her mother was released in 1941.
Plisetskaya's brother, Azari, became a dancer; her Aunt Elizaveta was an actress in Moscow; and her cousin Boris was a distinguished set designer. Balletic influence came from her mother's sister and brother, Sulamith and Mikhail Messerer, both talented soloists and later distinguished teachers with the Bolshoi Ballet, who coached and encouraged the young Maya from earliest days.