A ballroom dance instructor has been suspended with pay pending the outcome of an investigation involving a stolen dress.

Mark Baker, who has been director of Southern Utah University's Ballroom Dance Company since August 2006, was charged on Friday with class A misdemeanor theft after he was allegedly caught in Utah County in possession of a ballroom gown that did not belong to him.

"I am shocked at the allegations against me and keep waiting for the phone call that says, 'You've been punk'd,"' Baker said in a statement to the media. "I do not believe I am guilty of any crime and will be working to make sure that my name and reputation are not tarnished in any way by this unfortunate misunderstanding."

SUU spokesman Dean O'Driscoll said he did not know the details of the investigation but that the university is "cooperating fully with authorities." Police in Cedar City questioned Baker on Monday, and he is scheduled to attend a court hearing in Utah County on Oct. 29.

Police said they would not provide information about the incident and the owner of the dress until the case reaches court.

Meanwhile, the three ballroom dance sections Baker currently teaches at SUU are without an instructor.

William J. Byrnes, dean of the College of Performing Arts, said Monday that more than 230 students are enrolled in Baker's classes, which consist of mostly beginning and intermediate dancers, with some advanced students, but that classes will continue without interruption.

"We're just doing triage to provide fill-in teachers for his classes," he said. "Just trying to get through the week." Byrnes said Baker was hired to "rejuvenate" an un-energized ballroom dance program at SUU.

"Mark's the one who got it going again," he said, adding that the program has grown since Baker stepped in. "It wasn't until he came along that it really began to take shape."

According to SUU Ballroom Dance Company's Web site, Baker "has a great vision and enthusiasm for growing the program and capitalizing on the wave of popularity surrounding ballroom dance." It also states that students respect him as their director.

Baker was a former ballroom dance instructor at Utah Valley State College and received a degree from Brigham Young University.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com