ScanTarifa “Donna” Salem, Eastern Dance Artist, was exposed to the music and dance of the Middle East her entire life. She was born into a traditional Lebanese family, on March 30, 1956, and raised in a western Pennsylvania community that had a large Lebanese population. Both maternal and paternal grandparents immigrated from Amioun, Lebanon and maintained the traditions of the Middle East throughout their lives. Her family stayed with the Farrahs, her mothers family, for the first several months of her life. Maternal grandmother, Abla Nassar Farrah exposed her children and grandchildren to the traditional music and dances of the Middle East.  Jacob N. Salem, her paternal grandfather was a chanter in the Eastern Orthodox church her family went to so she was exposed to the beautiful arabic phrases so typically sung in the Eastern “quarter tone” scale.  Family activities revolved around church events. Haflas, picnics, weddings and other celebrations were never without Middle Eastern music and dance. This is how the dance styles were handed down from generation to generation. Mimicking the 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 “Peggy” Farrah were well known within the Lebanese community as exciting and proficient dancers and were encouraged to perform at church functions that featured live Arabic music. At Farrah family functions, Tarifa and siblings were treated to private performances, lessons on how to do the “Arabic” dance and often, how NOT to dance with several comedic renditions starring her 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. During her freshman year, she went to NYC to visit her uncle who took her to see legendary dance artist, Jemela Omar who was performing at the Darvish. This had a profound affect on her.  She promptly changed her major upon returning 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 1979 to further her dance studies and earned her MA Degree in Dance Education in 1982. She was a performing member of NYU based modern dance company, Kaleidoscope under the direction of Dr. Judith Schwartz. After working backstage for a year with the Ibrahim Farrah Near East Dance Group, she became a performing member the latter part of 1979 and remained with the company until 1982 before the arrival of her firstborn. Her most memorable performance with the company was at Town Hall in June, 1981 where she performed “the possessed” in Mr. Farrah’s “Beit al Zaar, and in production numbers La Mystique Et Spirituelle (Zeffet) and Saidi Et Nawaria. International Dance Star, Nadia Gamal was the featured artist in that performance. Tarifa was able to study intensely with Ms. Gamal and to perform on the same stage with her that summer. 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 82. Among the numbers she performed her favorites were Mr. Farrah’s “Balas” choreography which she performed with Mish Mish Bint Amira and Yousry Sharif and his “Dabke” Choreography performed with the company.

Tarifa’s other dance studies included her Afro/Caribbean Dance classes with Lavinia Williams, a Dunham protégé, Flamenco Dance with Carlota Santana, African Dance with Doris Green and Bharata Natyam Technique with legendary Classical Indian Dance Artist, Indrani. Her Master Thesis on Moroccan Trance Dance was published in “Arabesque Magazine” as a two-part series. She was a featured dancer at Middle Eastern Nightclubs in NYC, New Jersey and Pennsylvania during this period. Performances at special events such as the Atlantic Antic in Brooklyn, NYU affiliated performances and club dates booked by Eddie “the Sheik” Kochak, a mentor who taught her a great deal about the industry, 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 also studied 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 decision to write her Master Thesis on Moroccan Trance Dances. She also took classes and, more recently, workshops with Elena Lentini, Yousry Sharif and Ahmed Hussien, all of whom continue to inspire her. Tarifa believes that growth is ongoing, therefore continues her studies by taking workshops (when possible) and local modern and/or ballet dance classes, yet, she credits regular study with her mentors from early days in her career, for any success she may have achieved.

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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 her heart’s desire is to teach more Master Classes throughout the country to share her mentor, Ibrahim Farrah’s style of Middle Eastern Dance while being true to his goal of imposing a standard in presenting the art without sacrificing it’s rich cultural implications.

Tarifa has written several articles on dance which have been published in Arabesque and Yallah Magazine. She hopes to find more time in her pending retirement to research and write about cultural dance and her own heritage.

Contact Information
Email:  tarifasalem@gmail.com
Phone:  (561) 801-5783
Tarifa Salem Eastern Dance Arts, LLC
5820 Cedar Oaks Dr
Jacksonville, Fl.  32210

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