The passions of Dante Silverio
- Junep Ocampo () - July 5, 2006 - 12:00am
His name carries different meanings for different generations. Those who came before me remember him for his love for car racing. I, and the others of my time, know him as a feisty basketball coach who cared for how well he dressed while on the bench as much as how well his players performed. And the youth of today may know him as being a painter, or an enthusiast of some exotic Spanish dance, or just one jolly middle-aged gentleman with long hair leisurely spending his afternoons in a Makati mall.

Whatever his name means, definitely it would be outside the traditional corporate-leader, man-of-substance mold. For Dante Silverio is not the type that you get to read about everyday. He is one who loves to break conventions, and he does so always with class.

Two Saturdays ago, we sat down with this soon-to-be 70-year-old grandfather of four (he refuses to mention the number 70 and refers to it simply as "that age"). His home in Dasmariñas Village reflects what kind of person he is. Simple, down-to-earth, yet elegant. The house remains charming despite its age. Next to the main door as one enters is a three-foot basketball trophy with the words "Winner, Toyota-Crispa Reunion Game, 30 May 2003," a fitting reminder of Silverio’s passion for the sport.

At the center of the house is an atrium that leads to a small dance floor and an adjoining den which Silverio converted into a painting studio. The dance floor is already scarred, proof of the hundreds of hours of activities done on it. In the den, at least 20 paintings are stacked neatly on one side, while other artworks – mostly charcoal portraits of Silverio‘s wife Belen and his daughters Chichi and Kitkat in their younger days – cover the surrounding walls. One of Silverio‘s recent works is an almost life-size oil painting of Imee Marcos in a red evening gown and it hangs proudly on the side of the atrium.

With Spanish guitar playing in the background, Silverio talked about his past and present passions. He reminisced about car racing. He talked about basketball. Then he picked up a brush and began to paint. Towards the latter part of the interview, he changed into his dancing costume and showed us some flamenco moves.

PHILIPPINE STAR: What is your present state of mind now that you’re turning 70?

I‘m going 70, but I still feel as I did 35 years ago. My body may not be showing it but my heart and mind are practically the same as I was during those times.

What keeps you young?

In general, I am a guy who is always looking for something new to do as far as creative activities are concerned. I do not see myself doing something that I want then after doing it would just simply sit around and do nothing. I am always hungry for exciting activities.

Painting and dancing are among these activities?

Painting and dancing came in this part of my life. Racing, I must admit, belongs to the young ones. Although I feel I’m still competitive, I admit that physically I am affected by the demands of the sport in general. Motor racing is not a simple sport that one can take lightly. One must be physically fit to be competitive in that field. At the time that racing and basketball are no longer in my grasp to practice, I had to find something else to do, something that would again excite me, that will challenge me. And I found it in painting and dancing flamenco. At the moment, these are the two passions that I am seriously engaged in. They help keep my mind and my body in tune.

Flamenco is a difficult dance.

Yes, it is. I was mistaken to think that flamenco was just an ordinary art and an ordinary dance that can be easily learned if you have a background in dancing. I was wrong. Flamenco is a scientific art that is very intense and very demanding. If you want to be good at it and to dance it as it is meant to be danced, then you have to be physically and mentally fit. Your movement must always be in tune with what they call as compas and you must always be inside that particular dance requirement. If you are way off, then it affects the dance. It is a precision dance. That’s what makes it difficult. But the beauty of flamenco is that you can dance it alone.

Do you want to be known as a portrait artist?

Painting portraits was foremost in my mind when I began painting. I said I wanted to do figurative painting and I wanted to do it immediately. But I was wrong in thinking that way, because in painting there are no shortcuts. You have to learn the basic fundamentals of light and shade to be able to execute properly whatever you want to do in the long run.

You’re doing portraits in oil at a time when photography has entered the digital age.

Photography for me is mechanical. You just press a button and you get whatever effects you desire. But in painting, you have to execute the details required to achieve the likeness of the person in front of you. That’s the most important requirement in painting for it to be fully appreciated by your subject. It’s difficult but it’s learnable.

You seem to be very appreciative of beautiful things.

I always appreciate beautiful things. I appreciate beautiful cars. I appreciate beautiful amenities in life like clothing. Of course, I want beautiful things to surround me, and that goes to my execution of my paintings. I would not like to create sadness in my painting. I always want to express happiness and joy, this sort of genre or subject matter.

Most of the portraits in your studio are of women.

Women are beautiful subjects. And I would say that I find more attractions in women when it comes to painting. Women evolve in more dramatic fashions and they represent purity and beauty.

Next to your wife, who is the most beautiful woman for you right now?

Well, right now? Well (pauses for two seconds). You got me there, ha! (laughs). There are so many beautiful women nowadays. It’s probably because of fashion that you see them better these days. The way they dress now, the way they project their body, it’s amazing how fashion and all those scientific breakthroughs can change the looks of women nowadays. But going back to your question. There are a lot of beautiful women these days. (Pauses again) Nalilimutan ko na ang mga pangalan sa dami. (Laughs)

Are you a one-woman man?

Well, as far as my wife is concerned, I am. But as far as appreciation of beautiful women is concerned, my mind is wide. (Laughs).

How were you with women in your younger years?

I had many friendly relationships with famous women of my time. I must admit that because of my activities, I got to meet many famous women and at certain times my relationships with them were talked about in media. I think it went with what I did at that particular moment, being in the sport that everybody loved to watch. People glamorized my relationship with women in those days.

Do you recall instances in the past when women literally lined up at your door?

Wala naman!
(Laughs) Walang ganon! Well, it was very easy for me to make acquaintances with women at that time because of the popularity of the things that I was doing then.

How passionate are you?

I am very passionate. I won’t let go of a particular thing without excelling in it. That’s been true to anything in my life. I’d like to always excel in the things that I like to do. I’m happy because it has brought me successes along the way. I’m proud to say that I’ve been very successful in all the activities that I’ve been involved in. Motor racing, basketball. I consider myself now to be partly good at painting. I guess my frustration will end up to be flamenco (laughs).

Many people say that the Silverios were a favored family during the regime of former President Ferdinand Marcos. How powerful were you during those times?

Maybe my family was at one time a favored family in the Marcos era. I have to admit that we were friends with Mr. Marcos, especially my uncle. How influential was I? I carried certain powers but it was brought about mainly by the successes that I had earned for myself. That probably became my medium of power expression. But political power? I don’t think I had that. Probably my successes brought me some credibility and power as far as social standing was concerned.

How were you as a racecar driver?

To tell you honestly, racing was not on my mind in my early years. It was my brother who was really intense when it came to motorsports activities. It was only when I got to manage him in the 1969 Cebu Grand Prix, which was the first Grand Prix in the country, that the bug hit me. Feeling the excitement of the crowd and the sport in general gave me the interest to try it. After the Cebu Grand Prix, I just found myself getting more involved in motor sports.

How were you as a driver?

I’m always intense. I wanted to excel at it. I wanted to do my best and prove to myself that I can be successful. I’m always serious and I always do my homework to match the demands of the competition. I seldom find myself doing haphazard planning. I always want to see that everything is in proper order that everything is pretty well attended to.

How were you as a basketball coach?

My approach to motor racing was the same as my approach to basketball. I never left matters to luck. I always saw to it that I trained and groomed my players for the demands of the competition, having the championship in mind at all times.

What was it like coaching a legendary team like Toyota?

It’s difficult to manage human behavior. In basketball, you’re in a team sport that involves 14 characters. You must be able to handle them properly. You cannot be the boss in a team sport. You have to be a part of the team to be able to achieve the goal. It’s really difficult to manage the requirements of so many different personalities. In the end, it’s how you make use of them that will determine how effective you are as a coach. Of course there will always be differences along the way, some animosities. But in the end, what defines you as a coach is how you put to good use the talents that you have in your team.

If you were to choose your ultimate First Five, who would you pick?

From those days? Oh, my goodness, I will pick (Robert) Jaworski, (Francis) Arnaiz, (Ramon) Fernandez, Philip Cesar and Atoy Co or Bogs Adornado. It will be a mix of Toyota and Crispa players. Of course, Sonny (Jaworski) and Arnaiz will be there to man the backcourt, Fernandez to do the center, Philip Cesar to do the power forward and Atoy Co or Bogs Adornado to do the forward.

For Dante Silverio, who’s the best PBA player ever?

PBA player? (Thinks for several seconds) There’s Sonny, there’s Ramon (Fernandez), there’s Bogs Adornado.

Just one, Sir.

Just one, ha. (Thinks) Si Jawo na! (Laughs) Because he is a complete player. He may not be the best points scorer that you can have in a team but he has the charisma to lead the team and that is very important. He has leadership and that’s one good quality that makes a great player.

Do you still watch PBA games nowadays? How would you compare them to the games during your time?

Yes, I watch from time to time. What’s lacking now is team loyalty and team followers. You don’t find fan loyalty anymore. During our time, we had fanatics. And during our time we really took care of our fans, not naman spoiling them but we gave them importance. In return they gave us their loyalty.

Did you watch the recent NBA finals? On which side were you?

To tell you the truth, I was rooting for the Dallas Mavericks. I’ve been watching them since the semifinals and I was telling my friends that they have a stronger chance of winning the finals. It was because of their offense. They have a stronger offense compared to Miami. What happened was after winning the first two games, their offense went sour, really, really sour in the four games that followed. I blame the coach,) I think he mishandled his players. He did not pace them properly. That’s what affected their offense in the end game.

Of all the games you coached, which one was the most unforgettable?

I have many but I have to say that it was my first championship that I always treasure. This was not yet in the PBA. That was in Hong Kong, for the Hong Kong Invitational Championship. It was 1974 and my team, the Komatsu Comets, got invited to play against Japan, Korea, China and other teams from ASEAN. My coach quit and decided to do something else. I was the team manager and while scouting for a new coach, I decided to try my hand in coaching. I instantly liked the job. Finally, I appointed myself coach of the team. I was really criticized by the media for taking the initiative of doing the coaching chores myself. I can’t blame them for thinking so because I had a good team. For them, I might just ruin the potential of my team. For them, I should have hired a professional coach to do the job. At that time, Japan and Korea were the teams to beat in basketball in the region, especially Korea who had the great Shin Dong Pa in its line up. Shin Dong Pa was a very prolific shooter. That was the turning point in my coaching career. We beat Japan and Korea to win the championship. I was able to prove to all that I could handle my team and win a championship. After that year, in 1975, I won my first PBA championship.

People notice that you dress differently. Do you do that to be different?

Hindi naman.
I’m not trying to be different. I’m just trying to dress with the times. I always wanted to look good. What I wear makes me feel comfortable; it makes me feel confident.

What makes a man look good?

There are many ways. But you have to work for it. It doesn’t just happen. Some men are born with good looks but for most who are not born that way, you have to project yourself. You have to have a certain discipline. Discipline in food intake, exercise, grooming. You have to be concerned about these things to look good.

You don’t have to answer this, but when some of my friends learned that I would be interviewing you, they requested me to ask you this. There have been rumors that you are gay. What can you say about it?

Hmmm. I don’t know. (Laughs). That’s been going on for quite some time now. How can I answer you? I am not. (Laughs). How can I answer something that I am not? I don’t really know why they think of me that way or why some people came up with the idea. Matagal na yan eh. Could it be because of my hair? Could it be because of the way I walk? Could it be because of the way I look? I don’t know. I don’t act naman as such, di ba? Hindi naman ako makembot! (Laughs).

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