In 2001, Steven Sondheim’s Follies was brought back to the Manhattan theater community delivered in the form of its first Broadway revival. The same year, a 12-year-old phenom named Beatrisa Liang from Granada Hills, California, made her Championship debut at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston.
The Broadway production of Follies closed by year’s end, but ‘Bebe’ (as Liang is commonly known as) has been going ever since. Liang’s arrival in Spokane to compete in her tenth consecutive U.S. National Championships on the senior level could be summed up in verse by Carlotta’s stirring torch song I’m Still Here from the Follies catalog.
Liang’s figure skating career has been to this point, a story of great potential that has never been fully realized. In her first appearance at the U.S. Championships in 1999, Liang was a 10-year-old unknown on the novice level who would have been the talk of the town had it not been for 12-year-old Naomi Nari Nam stunning everyone by winning the silver medal in Championship ladies. Liang won the bronze medal that year, and promptly tested up to the junior level.
After finishing in a disappointing sixth place at the 2000 U.S. Championships as a junior, Liang quickly tested and passed all of the qualifications to become a senior level skater within the United States. In her Championship debut in 2001, Bebe placed sixth and seemed poised to make a run for an Olympic Team in 2002 or 2006. Since that debut, however, Liang hovered in the middle of the top ten for seven years until a disastrous performance last season in Cleveland resulted in her career-worst 14th place finish.
At the end of those Championships, most thought that Liang would move on, and even she herself thought it might be the end of her career.
“I took some time off at the end of last season,” Liang reflected. “I had to take a step back to look at my career and evaluate if I wanted to continue on or not.”
But Liang couldn’t stay away.
“After some time away from the rink and training on regular basis, I just started to miss skating,” said the now 21-year-old Liang. “I found myself wanting to push for another year to prove to myself that I could work hard and put out a product that I could be proud of.”
Liang knew that she was in great hands.
“When I first started getting back on the ice, I was frustrated. I had to get my jumps back and get back into the swing of things,” Liang said of her return. “My coach Frank (Carroll) was really helpful to keep me on pace and to encourage me. He helped me get motivated which gave me the push that I needed to know that I could do it again.”
Now on the cusp of her tenth short program in the U.S. Championships, Liang seems as exhilarated as she was to skate her first.
“Every year is so exciting to me,” Liang explained. “There are always new girls to compete against. It doesn’t feel like it’s been ten years. I guess I just love to train every day, and to travel to and compete in different countries. I’ve done this my whole life, and I love it. It’s just something that I do.”
Over the years Liang has learned a thing or two about herself, but she has struggled with the one thing that has hindered her from taking her skating to the next level- mental toughness.
“I know I can do the jumps and put everything out there. I just have to stay focused knowing that I can do what I have to do on the ice. I’ve just needed to learn to have more confidence in myself, and that is something that I have worked on this year.”
Now older and wiser, Liang hopes to approach this competition with a new attitude.
“The first time I competed in an Olympic year, I was thirteen, and I didn’t have a clue as to what was going on,” Liang said with a giggle. “The second time, I didn’t really think about the Olympics. I just tried to keep that out of my mind. This year, I know that it’s going on, but I don’t think that it’s necessary to put pressure on myself. This season is more about my own victories. I just want to go out there and skate as best as I can and see how it turns out.”
That doesn’t mean that Liang is averse to skating for an Olympic berth, however.
“Maybe a small part of me wants people to consider me (a possibility for the Olympic Team),” Liang admitted, “but in some ways it’s a good thing that I’m not considered a favorite. I like being the underdog, and it’s exciting when I can pull out a performance that someone might not be expecting of me.”
Nevertheless, whatever happens this week in Spokane, Liang is already preparing for her future by pursuing a college education.
“After finishing up at a community college, I am now attending Cal State-Northridge. I just started full time last semester, and I have been learning how to balance all of these other new responsibilities with skating. It’s a great experience for me.”
Liang isn’t far from her skating roots however, as she is studying kinesiology.
“I am learning all about the science of exercise, and I am thinking about continuing on so that I can become a Physical Therapist once I finish my Bachelor’s Degree.”
That doesn’t mean that Liang is planning to retire from skating anytime soon.
“I haven’t decided if I am going to stop competing or not yet,” Liang said with uncertainty. “I don’t want to close any doors. Definitely I want to make sure that I put out one hundred percent if I decide to skate another season. We’ll see after the season is over.”
One thing that keeps her motivated is her fans, Liang said.
“I have such great fans, and it’s so comforting and encouraging to have people rooting for you and wanting to see you do well. They give me a lot of self confidence to have the strength to go out there and skate in front of everybody.”
Liang’s face lit up when she discussed a group of particular supporters.
“There is a group of ladies who come to Nationals every year, and they always tell me wonderful things. One year, one of the ladies gave me a pair of earrings with skates on them. She told me that she thought of me when she saw them, and had to buy them for me. Little gestures like that means the world.”
But it’s the excitement that keeps Liang coming back year after year.
“Even though I can’t recall all of the specific details of each National Championships right now, I never came here and thought that it was the same as last year or boring. Every year is so exciting, and Nationals is my favorite competition to come to. I just love coming.”
And this year, Liang is ready for something special.
“I’ve been second in the short program here a couple of times, and it gives me motivation to know that I can do it and it pushes me to do better. The fire is back.”
Maybe the best way to summarize Liang’s sentiment is best said in the last verse of Carlotta’s folly: “I’ve run the gamut, A to Z. Three cheers and dammit, C’est la vie. I got through all of last year, and I’m here. Lord knows, at least I was there, and I’m here. Look who’s here. I’m still here.”