Several years ago, I was surprised to hear my friend's daughter wanting to drop out of high school to concentrate on her lessons in hip-hop dance. The distressed mother, a teacher, was trying hard to persuade herself that her headstrong daughter was making the right decision. Since then, I have become aware that many university students devote many hours to dance. They do not hesitate to confess to being more committed to hip-pop dance and 'moonwalking' than to their studies. Today, this so-called street dancing is a daily scene among youngsters in Japan. They study their moves in the glass doors of buildings and practise their steps on train station platforms as they commute to dance studios, which are spouting up all over Japan. The street-dance or breakdance style was created by African Americans in New York and other American cities, and has been promoted globally since the 1980s. In Japan, the robot-like moves and head-spins evolved into a popular performing art form in the 1990s through dance-contest programmes on television. The result is a bevy of popular entertainers who sing and dance, including Exile, a group of six men whose latest album has sold nearly 2 million copies. According to Ad Hip, a dance contest organiser, there are more than 100,000 street dancers in Japan, 60 per cent of whom are male. 'It's really fun, and I feel I am really alive only when I am dancing,' said Hitomi Ogura, 19, who dances in a student group of 20. She practises twice a week with them and goes to a studio for a weekly lesson. Hundreds of high-school street dance teams perform regularly in national contests. In Tokyo and the surrounding area, some 5,000 dancers are registered in the Kanto Area University Dance League. And about 400 teams from Tokyo, together with a few hundred others from across Japan, pay to perform in the annual Japan Dance Delight, the biggest such event in the country. Japanese have applied their discipline - as witnessed in the martial arts and tea ceremonies - to street dancing, it seems, and have done well in the international arena. With the craze spreading, travel agencies now organise overseas dance study tours, while a couple of high schools are including dance as part of the curriculum. Of course, only a handful ever make it professionally. My friend's daughter gave up her career in dance, got married and became a mother last year. What was the dancing all about for her, then? Her mother had a good answer: street dance is like music to other people; something that, in their youth, they need daily; in which they dream of one day making it big, while adults just frown on the idea. 'Didn't we all, once, want to be pop stars?' she says. I did.