Tarifa “Donna” Salem, Middle Eastern Dance Artist, was exposed to Arabic music and dance her entire life. She was born on March 30, 1956 into a traditional Lebanese family in a Western Pennsylvania community where many Lebanese families settled during the diaspora of the early 1900s. Both maternal and paternal grandparents immigrated from Amioun, Lebanon and maintained the traditions of the Middle East throughout their lives. She and her family lived with her mothers family, the Farrahs, for the first several months of her life. Her grandmother, Abla Nassar Farrah exposed her children and grandchildren to the traditional music and dances of the Middle East. Tarifa’s paternal grandfather, Jacab N. Salem, was a chanter in the Eastern Orthodox church, where the melodic chants, sung in the Eastern “quarter tone” scale were deeply etched into her earliest memories. Family activities revolved around church events. Haflas, picnics, weddings and other celebrations were never without Middle Eastern music and dance, where regional dance styles were handed down from generation to generation. Mimicking adults who danced at these events was a form of entertainment as well as first hand exposure to the art. Tarifa’s uncle, Middle Eastern Dance Artist, Ibrahim (Bobby) Farrah, and her aunt, Margaret Ann “Peggy” Farrah were recognized within the local Lebanese community as exciting and proficient dancers and were encouraged to perform at functions that featured live Arabic music. At Farrah family gatherings, Tarifa and siblings were treated to private performances; lessons on how to do “Arabic” dance and often, how NOT to dance with many comedic renditions starring uncles, “Bobby” (Ibrahim Farrah) and “Sonny” (Jay Farrah), both being quite adept at mimicking less talented acquaintances. Middle Eastern Dance and Music represented joy, love and laughter in her life.
Dance and singing roles in high school musicals, piano lessons, ballet classes and voice lessons, occupied Tarifa’s teen years. She was accepted at West Chester State College as a voice major/piano minor in 1974. In her freshman year, she went to NYC to visit her uncle who took her to see legendary dance artist, Jemela Omar perform at the Darvish. This had a profound effect on her. She promptly changed her major upon her return to college and enrolled in every dance elective her schedule allowed. She graduated with a BS degree in Health & Physical Education with a Dance Emphasis in 1978. That same year she obtained her first professional teaching job in New York City where she taught Dance and PE at the Nightingale Bamford School, an elite private girls academy. She enrolled at NYU in the summer of 1979 to further her dance studies and earned her MA Degree in Dance Education in 1982. She performed with NYU based Modern Dance company, Kaleidoscope under the direction of Dr. J. Schwartz while there. After working backstage for the Ibrahim Farrah Near East Dance Group, her uncle invited her to became a performing member in the winter of 1979. She remained with the company until 1982. Her most memorable performance was her NYC debut with the company in June 1981 at Town Hall where she was featured as “the possessed” in Mr. Farrah’s “Beit al Zaar” and performed with the company in “La Mystique Et Spirituelle” (Zeffet) and “Saidi Et Nawaria” featuring International Dance Artist Nadia Gamal. Tarifa was fortunate to be able to study intensely with Ms. Gamal that summer and to perform on the same stage with her was a dream come true. She idolized Nadia Gamal and worked very hard to emulate her style of dance. Among other performances with the group, she especially enjoyed dancing at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina in the spring of 1982. Among her favorites numbers were Mr. Farrah’s “Balas” choreography in which she performed with Mish Mish Bint Amira and Yousry Sharif as well as his “Dabke” choreography performed with the entire company.
Tarifa’s other dance training included Afro/Caribbean Dance classes with Dunham protégé Lavinia Williams, Flamenco Dance with Carlota Santana, African Dance with Doris Green and Bharata Natyam with legendary Classical Indian Dance Artist, Indrani. Her Master Thesis “Morocco and its Dances” was published in two parts in the Sept/Oct and Nov/Dec 1982 issues of “Arabesque Magazine”. She was a featured dancer at popular Middle Eastern Nightclubs in NYC, New Jersey and Pennsylvania during the early 80s. Performances at special events such as the Atlantic Antic in Brooklyn, NYU affiliated performances and private club dates booked by Eddie “the Sheik” Kochak, another mentor who taught her a great deal about the industry, further developed her sense of artistry.
Tarifa also studied with Phaedra (Phyllis Saretta), longtime principal dancer with the Ibrahim Farrah Near East Dance Group, who instructed her in preparation for Mr. Farrah’s advanced classes. Phaedra’s insistence on perfecting lines and proper execution of steps had a great impact on her career in regards to both performance and her ability to teach effectively. She took occasional classes with Jajouka (Merrill Peress) longtime principal dancer of the Ibrahim Farrah Near East Dance Group. Jajouka had an astounding acuity for the rhythms of the East and an ability to convey extreme intensity and passion in her movement expression. Tarifa was mesmerized by Jajouka’s performance of the “Guedra” which greatly influenced her choice of topic for her Master Thesis. She also had the great fortune to study with great artists such as Elena Lentini, Yousry Sharif and Ahmed Hussien, all of whom continue to inspire her as she has enrolled in their workshops post NYC days. She believes that growth is ongoing, therefore continues to participate in workshops with those who inspire her and local technique classes (modern and/or ballet), yet, she credits regular study with her primary mentors from the early days in her career for any success she may have achieved.
Though he passed away in 1998, her uncle, Ibrahim Farrah, continues to inspire Tarifa to develop an understanding of the music and dance of various cultures and stage them without sacrificing the essence that defines the quality of movement inherent in that culture. Sharing her knowledge through teaching private and group classes is quite fulfilling, however she enjoys teaching Workshops & Master Classes as a means of sharing her mentor Ibrahim Farrah’s style of Middle Eastern Dance while being true to the legacy he left of imposing a standard in presenting the art without sacrificing it’s rich cultural implications.
Tarifa has written articles on dance which have been published in Arabesque and Yallah Magazine. As she enjoys a semi-retired existence, she hopes to find more time to read about cultural dance and the history of her own heritage.__________________________________________________________________________________ Contact Information Email: email@example.com Phone: (561) 801-5783